Amor! Some call her Roma! Day four.

On my fourth morning in Rome, I was nervous. I had the map laid out on the hotel bed and was tracing my fingers across the unfamiliar sounding names of serpentine streets. The plan was to see the Basilica di San Clemente at Laterno and the Basilica of San Pietro in Vincoli (St. Peter in chains)! I knew it was very close to the Colosseum so walked confidently towards the impressive amphitheater, standing proudly against a cobalt blue sky. I opened my map up in front of it. After giving myself five minutes of peering cluelessly at the streets on the map, folded it carefully, put it back in my pocketbook and went to the first policeman I found.

“Scuzi, senor, how get to Basilica di San Clemente?” I constantly spoke terrible English during my stay in Rome. For some reason, I felt if I dropped some words, I may be able to communicate better!!!

The policeman answered back in accented but perfect English, pointing me in the right direction. I stopped to look at the ruins of Ludus Magnus, a gym for training gladiators. Archaeologists believe there was a network of corridors that linked this structure to the Colosseum.

The Basilica di San Clemente at Laterno was tucked in a narrow lane. This basilica was dedicated to Saint Clement, the fourth pople, making this one of the oldest Roman basilicas. Ruined in 1084, it was rebuilt on the same site by Paschal II in 1108. I entered the Capella di Santa Caterina (St. Catherine’s Chapel) which has some decorative frescoes by Masolino de Panicale (1383 – 1447). This is a prime example of of a church piled atop a church piled atop a pagan temple. A 12th century church was built directly over a 4th century church, which was built directly over a 2nd century pagan temple. This kind of architecture is not unique in Rome since almost the entire city is built directly on top of the ancient one. In San Clemente, one can actually go down to the lower levels and get a glimpse of the city’s architecture in the 2nd century. 2nd century!!!! How incredible is that?

I had to buy a ticket (5 euros) to go into the lower basilica. The lower church was dated back to the 4th century and still has some relatively well-preserved frescoes. The base of the building dates thousands of years back in time. It corresponds to a 2nd century house in which a Mithraeum was created later, a grotto shaped room, devoted to the Persian god Mithra. I found the worship place of this ancient cult more interesting than the churches above it, so I read up on it further. Since photography was prohibited, the facts are all I have to fall back upon.

Mithras, or Mitra, is a very ancient deity. In the Vedic religions that preceded Hinduism, Mitra was a solar deity of oaths and treaties who was closely connected with the sky god Varuna. In Persian religion, he is the solar deity of friendship and honesty operating under the supreme god Ahura Mazda. The followers of Mithras, the Mithrans, met in caverns or in artificial enclosures made to look like caverns. Under the basilica too, the mithraeum had the grotto look. Along the walls there were stone benches where the sacred banquet was held. In the center of the room the alter with the god is visible. The god is slitting the throat of a bull. The blood from the bull symbolized the benevolent force and fertility. As part of their rituals, Mithraic priests sacrificed bulls until the blood flowed into troughs, which followers would then scoop out with their arms to bathe in. Next to the temples are the buried remains of a Roman palazzo of 1st century. We could hear the sound of rushing water as we walked around the rooms underground. I learnt that this water is from the ancient pipes and aqueducts between the walls.

After being transported completely to the 2nd century, walking along the dimly lit rooms and corridors, listening to the swish of the running water and imagining the worshippers of the pagan god congregating to worship in the Mithraeum, I made my way up to the lower basilica. It was fascinating because of its antiquity and how well some of the frescoes have survived the onslaught of time. But the annoying aspect for me was being stuck behind a French-speaking tour group, who blocked every single way, I tried to exit. They were listening to their tour guide in rapt attention, completely unaware of me, trying to duck under their arms, around their torso to find a leeway to exit the narrow hallways. I do have a touch of claustrophobia, roaming around the labyrinthine belly of the basilica for over half an hour was starting to stress me out a bit. One woman, finally, acknowledged my efforts to get by them, spoke to the others and the way parted for me. I walked between them, Moses-like, and climbed the ancient stairs to emerge in the 12th century chapel for Saint Caterina. Felt like I traveled through a time machine. As I sat on the pews to absorb the experience and write in my journal, real world donned on me again, and not in a nice way. I saw a young man standing at the door of the chapel, looking very important, official and confident, he had an money-box in his hand. As the tourists walked into the Basilica, he thrust the money-box confidently in front of them and saying something in Italian. It gave me the feeling that he was expecting them to pay to enter the church. Most of the folks, I observed, dug into their pockets and brought out euro notes to put into his box. I knew the entry to the chapel was free. As far as I know, churches don’t charge you to go in. But people were falling for his con man’s tricks. The ugly within the precincts of the beautiful. I gave him the white of my eye as I walked out past him. The restrooms in Rome are few and far between, hence it requires a little bit of planning. Within four days, I had checked out where some of the public bathrooms are, in case of an emergency. From the Basilica of San Clemente, I walked around aimlessly looking at ancient buildings, peeking inside them to see a beautiful courtyard and a fountain in the center and slowly made my way towards the public restroom at the back of the Colosseum, on Via Colosseo (note it down if you plan to visit Rome soon)! But the French group had beat me to it. Older women were standing in a long line to use the facilities. They turned, smiled and greeted me like an old friend and I did the same.

From San Clemente, I made my way to San Pietro in Vincoli (St. Peter in chains). This church houses the famous Moses  by Michelangelo and the original chains that supposedly bound Saint Peter.


Supposedly, the original chains that bound St. Peter.
Mausoleo di Giulio II (Julius II’s Mausoleum)!
The power in this sculpture of Moses…

The constant walking with two bags with bricks in them was taking a toll on my back and hips. I sat down in front of the Colosseum and indulged in my favorite activity – people watching, while my weary body rested to build up enough energy to walk back. And I found this gentleman/lady looking at me.

And some Roman soldiers milling around, trying to earn some euros.

Luring tourists into taking pictures with them.

In my contemplative, people watching mood, I also realized a couple of eccentricities of the city of Rome. First is the psychological warfare that goes on daily between the pedestrians and the vehicles. Often, in many streets, there are crosswalks and no lights. The norm is for the vehicles to come to a complete stop to let the pedestrian cross. But I noticed the complete disregard for this rule, especially by the cab drivers. In fact, the vehicles somewhat accelerated threateningly as they came close to the crosswalks, the poor tourists, as a result, quickly stepped up back onto the curb, lacking the courage to boldly step off the sidewalk to face the audacious driver. I hail from Kolkata, where the traffic is synonymous to chaos, I should have been used to this, yet I just couldn’t jump in front of an aggressive cabbie expecting him to brake and let me cross the street. Sean’s suggestion was, not to look them in the eye, just get in front of the car and they will stop. I didn’t think a loving spouse should ask his better half to walk in front of a moving vehicle, but he was trying to be helpful, so I held my peace. On these particular occasions, I loved tour groups. They gave me the confidence to cross the street fearlessly, by being one among many. If there were no tour groups in sight, I sidled against a local who boldly stepped off the curb without giving the on-coming vehicles a second glance, and scurried across with him/her.

The other eccentricity probably applies to all the tourists across the globe. It is their propensity to stop suddenly to either take a picture or exclaim excitedly at a point of interest. I walk fast, I had to stop abruptly on several occasions to avoid a sure collision with my fellow explorer. The beauty of it was, they were completely unaware that they were about to be bumped by me. Most of the times, I smiled indulgently and passed by. Once in a while, when I was tired, hungry and hurting, I did a say a quiet ‘What the heck?’ as I walked by them.

It was almost 2 in the afternoon when I grabbed a lunch of an eggplant, buffalo cheese, sundried tomato and fresh basil pizza and came back to the hotel to rest for a while. I planned to go meet Sean in Trastevere and walk back to the hotel with him.

Piazza Santa Maria, where I waited for Sean. The church of Santa Maria is seen at the back.
A gorgeous mosaic of Jesus and Mary in Chiesa di Santa Maria.

Sean and I strolled along the famous Via Del Corso looking at the designer stores and ended up at the Spanish steps again. I had gone there without my husband, but the romance in the air made me want to go back with him. After all what is the point of being in Rome if one is not kissed on the Spanish steps by the beloved? We witnessed a man proposing to his lady-love and she accepting the proposal on the steps. We all clapped when the gentleman turned to the crowd and said, with tears in his eyes, ‘She said YES!’ We were thrilled to be part of a special and endearing moment. We walked around the steps and went to the Trevi fountains, had a nice dinner of spagghetti carbonara (me) and gnocchi sorrentino (Sean) at a trattoria and a ‘not so yummy’ gelato near Piazza Novona. Then we worked off the dessert by walking through narrow cobble stoned alleyways, which I absolutely loved, to Campo di Fiori – a piazza alive with musicians, diners, tourists and shops.

Campo di Fiori – alive with action.
Pasta decoration in front of a restaurant.

Day four ended. I realized I still had the remnants of my country mouse syndrome as Sean had to pull me back on the sidewalk a couple of times as I exuberantly exclaimed at a frescoe or an ancient looking apartment, or flowers on the window sill of a dilapidated house, completely unaware that the person behind me was so close to colliding into ME!!!

Destination for Day 5 – the doma and cupola of the Basilica of St. Peters and maybe Castel Sant’ Angel, if I still had the energy.


Amor! Some call her Roma! Day three.

Sean dragged me out of bed at an ungodly hour of 7 am, made me gulp down my coffee and croissant and pushed me out of the door to go stand in line at the Vatican Museum while he went to work. I arrived at Musei Vaticani at 8:30 in the morning and stood in line in a very foul mood. It takes me a while to wake up and I can’t stand any chirpiness in the morning. Anyway, the museum opened at 9:00 am. I stood in line listening to the cacophony of traffic and various world languages, suddenly feeling very included in the huge mass of humanity and not so grumpy anymore. A guide from Kerala (India) tried to play the India card to get employed as my guide. It didn’t work since I like to do my own touring with a book in hand. I felt very inadequate to truly appreciate the beauty of the objects displayed there. So I won’t even attempt to go into explanations. Here are some pictures instead.

A gorgeous mural, despite a blonde Mary and little, blonde Jesus.

A very well-preserved mummy of the henna haired woman.

Sculpture of Lacoon, found on the Esquitine in Rome in 1506. Created sculptors Agesandros, Athanodoros and Polydoros of Rhodes.
Broken foot.
Staircase in the museum

I did pay my homage to the Sistine chapel but I had to contain the memory of it in my head and in my heart since photography was prohibited. Upon entering the museum I followed the signs to Sistine Chapel and arrived there first to avoid the crowd. I found a place to sit and wonder for a while. What I really wanted to do was lie on the floor and stare at the ceiling all day. There are so many stories up there, mere half an hour is simply not enough. In the chapel, there was a low hum of conversation in different languages. When people got a bit too exuberant in their emotions at the sight of the masterpiece, the custodians of the chapel raised their voices ‘Silence please’! The people quieted down, and the custodians resumed their loud conversation amongst themselves in Italian. I smiled at the paradox! They also lazily turned around, once in a while, to warn people against taking pictures. The people who were clicking pretended not to hear, took the picture anyway, and then, when reprimanded again, said, ‘Oh, sorry, I didn’t hear you!’ The prohibition of photography wasn’t implemented strictly, I must say. Yet, I didn’t take any pictures. That conscience, I tell you!!! Anyway, read this little piece of information which made Michelangelo very real for me – ‘When Julius II abandoned his project for a funerary sculpture, Michelangelo returned unhappily to Florence. In 1508, he was recalled to Rome by the pope, who asked him to paint the Twelve Apostles on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. He had barely started, when he realised the work was going badly. The pope then gave him a free hand and instead of the blue star-spangled vault, he created a masterpiece filled with powerful movement. Julius II came regularly to ask Michelangelo when he would finish. From atop the scaffolding came the regular reply “when I can.” ‘

After being completely overwhelmed by the enormity of the museum, saturated by the grandeur of the Sistine Chapel, the statues, frescoes and painting by the masters of all times, I came out of the museum groggy eyed, somewhat disoriented and bone weary. The four hours I spent there had transported me to the world of Egyptian pharaohs, Roman Emperors, Christ and his disciples, popes and cardinals; so the sounds and sights of the traffic, beggars, hawkers, tour guides right outside the museum was a rude awakening to my world, the real world, and the long hike back to my hotel.

My camera bag and pocket-book were seriously getting heavier with each step I took, so I decided to pay a visit to my favorite woman The Pieta at the Basilica of St. Peter’s. I wanted to sit in the Basilica and surround myself with more objects of splendor and beauty before I trudged back to the hotel. Unfortunately, the pope was giving a Papal audience to the faithful at the courtyard, and the line to see ‘the papa’ was serpentine. Instead, I sat on one of the marble benches in Via Concilliazone and stared at the Basilica longingly. Rested my weary legs, at the same time, and again, listened to different languages all around me.

After a lunch of panini with mozzarella cheese and prosciutto, I took a well deserved Italian siesta for a couple of hours. Around six in the evening, I got my funky spring coat on to go back to the Trevi fountain for pictures and then go further to see the Spanish steps. The Piazza de Spagna is always vibrant and lively! Different languages, lot of laughter, lot of smoking, lot of loving and lot of panting as people climbed the steps to go to the top. Since my community work during the vacation had been pouncing on couples, mother/daughter, families etc, to ask if they wanted me to take any pictures of them so they all could be in it, I took quite a few pictures of happy strangers (with their own camera, of course)! Almost all families graciously (sometimes giddily) accepted my offer with profuse words of thanks. However, one family of four refused me with a pretty smile thinking I was one of those annoying professional photographers, who pester people to take their pictures. I don’t blame them, with my own camera around my neck and camera bag on my side, I looked the part. Language could have been an issue too.

The Spanish Steps.

The piazza Spagna around the Spanish steps are surrounded by ritzy stores – Dior, Dolce & Gabanna, Prada, Guess. I walked around window shopping. As I crossed an alleyway, I peeked in only to spot a gorgeous, majestic looking church with a decorated marble facade. Churches are like magnets for me, I feel a compulsive need to look into the most obscure church that one can find in Italy. But fortunately, I am yet to find an obscure, ordinary, plain-looking church in Rome. I am sure there are some, just not in my eye.

I digressed from my chalked out path and walked towards the white marble facade of the chiesa. I have already mentioned earlier that I am terrible at reading maps and even worse at directions. So when I go to a place I remember landmarks. Hansel and Gretel used rocks to find their way back to their mean parents’ house, I use Burger King, the mask store, the clock store, the gelataria to get back to where I came from.

So when I digressed from my path, I was apprehensive that I might get lost. But I looked at one end of the street and discovered to my joy the Victor Emanuele II building, standing white and tall in all its glory in the setting sunlight. I had that ‘once was lost, now I am found’ kind of feeling since my hotel was very near that building. Bolstered by my new-found confidence, I did a lot of window shopping on Via del Corsa which is probably comparable to the Fifth Avenue in New York City.

From Via del Corsa, I took the narrow alleyway towards Piazza Novona in search of a little pizzeria for dinner. Bought a pizza amatriciana (yes, more bacon) and headed towards the Pantheon to eat my dinner on the steps of the fountain at Piazza Della Rotonda. My interest was really the gelato store at one end of the piazza. I tried the cassatta flavor today, so far, that was my favorite.

The fountain at Piazza della Rotonda, where I ate my dinner.
Part of the fountain.

Since I was walking at least one hundred miles (well, it felt that way with my heavy bags) each day, I made an executive decision to eat a different kind of gelato each day during my stay in Rome, and also try a different type of pizza. I ended up getting the particular kind which had the fattiest bacon on it. Anyway, I took my gelato and walked on to the crowded Piazza Novona to do some people watching and to look at the really good art work of the local artists.

The fountain in Piazza Novona.

Very content after my cassatta flavored gelato, I decided to call it a day and headed back to the hotel when it happened again – I spotted the gorgeous Chiesa del Jesu, the Church of Jesus. And it beckoned me to go in. Inside, I saw a flurry of activities, a bunch of college kids in tux and black dresses where doing vocal drills to get ready for a choir singing. These were the same kids who sat next to Sean and I on the plane as we flew into Rome. They were Chamber singers from Virginia Tech who had come to sing in three different cities in Italy! Their band master came over to me to say hello. I assured him I wasn’t really stalking him or following him around, since I had bumped into him at the Vatican museum as well. With a promise to come back to see them perform, I rushed back to the hotel to write in my journal and also to write a note to my husband where I would be. Poor Sean was in a meeting all day, which was to culminate in a working dinner. I didn’t want him to come back to the hotel and find his wife missing. When the show ended at 10 pm, and I turned around to leave, I saw my husband coming in to walk me back!

The Chamber singers from Virginia Tech performing at Chiesa del Jesu.

Another very full day came to an end and I loved every minute of it. I didn’t realize I could completely check out from my real life, I could completely let go. But I did it. I didn’t have my cell phone, my computer or my iPad. I was totally untraceable and unreachable. I was not connected to the internet and did not have the desire to be connected either. All I wanted to do was to connect with the vibrant, modern and ancient vibes of the beautiful city of Rome. I truly disconnected to connect with my spouse, myself and my surroundings. I was experiencing, thinking and ‘looking’. I felt I hadn’t done that for a while. Maybe, because it was only for a few days, I was so content being away from it all. Sean commented he had not seen me so carefree for a long time.

One of my friends had suggested I see the Basilica of San Clemente. The plan for day four is to go see this very ancient church and check out the original chains that bound St. Peters in San Pietro in Vincoli.

Amor! Some call her Roma! Day two.

The plan was to get up at the crack of dawn and see Roma in the early morning light. But when do things happen as planned? We slept in till 8:15 am and woke up when the sun was already shining brightly over the tiled roof tops and the innumerable domes and spires in the city.

After a breakfast of croissants, coffee, yogurt and cereal we walked towards the Roman Forum. Sean only had a few hours to explore with me before he had to go to his meeting, so we decided to visit the Capitolini. A stepped up ramp, the Cordonata, leads to a magnificent square designed by Michaelangelo, and to the oldest public museum in
the world, the Musei Capitolini. The Tabularium, which occupied the space between the temple of Jupiter on one side of the Capitolini Hill and the steps which led up past the Carcer to the Arx on the other, unfurls a stupendous view of the Roman Forum.

Foro Romano

We took the the elevator up to the Dalla Terrazza Delle Quadrighe for a panoramic view of the tiled roof tops of the entire city of Rome on one side and the whole Roman forum on the other. The confluence of modern and ancient. I had worn a skirt up top on the terrace on a very windy morning. To prevent several Marilyn Monroe moments, I had to relinquish the camera to my esposo while I tightly held on to my billowing skirt. These are some pictures he took.

From the top of the world the tiled roofs of Rome. The Dome of the St. Peter’s can be seen.
Bird’s eye view of Foro Romano – The Roman Forum.
The Colosseum in the background.

Sean, very unwillingly, left for work while I started walking towards my destination – the Colosseum. But this is Rome, one can’t purposefully walk towards one landmark, but simply has to make detours to do justice to the other gorgeous buldings, palazzos, chiesas (churches) strewn all across the city. I stopped to tour the Monumento a Vittorio Emanuele II. This huge monument by Guiseppe Sacconi was begun in 1885 and inaugurated in 1911. It honors King Victor Emanuele II who achieved unification of Italy in 1870 with Rome as the capital city. The dazzling white marble building is a sharp contrast to the warm tones of the city and looks jarring next to the ruins of the Roman forum. Although, this building is ridiculed as the Wedding Cake and Typewriter, I thought it was impressive if seen just by itself.

I walked with the crowds towards the Colosseum, smiling at the Bengali words I heard from the Bangladeshi hawkers selling their ware, the lost tourists scratching their heads while looking at the map, the excited voices and laughter of Italian teenagers, the grumpy parents trying to control the screaming toddlers because it was way past their naptime, the aggressive Italian drivers zooming past me and braking suddenly to let a clueless tourist cross the street. Most importantly, I was smiling at the blue sky and the bright, golden sun shining on my face.

When I arrived at the Colosseum, my smile disappeared. The line to get tickets was a mile long. The tour operators were luring people to skip the line and join their tour group at a steep price. I decided against waiting in line and wasting half my day, so took some outside shots of the Colosseum and went to Via Sacra (the Sacred road) flanked by pillars from the Roman era to look at the ruins of the Forum.

The impressive Colosseum.
The blue sky through the Colosseum
The ancient pillars flanking the Via Sacra, the sacred road.

Next to the Colosseum is the Arch of Constantine, built in 315 by the Senate and the Roman people three years after Constantine’s victory over his enemy Maxentius.

Arco di Trionfo di Constantio

I walked by the Colosseum to say my goodbye as I headed back, only to find the line had shrunk. I promptly placed myself behind some Italian men and starting chatting up an American couple from upstate New York, on their first trip to Rome.

Much has been already written about gladiatorial fights, animals, prisoners of war being killed, Christian devouts being martyred. I won’t get into those. I found some interesting information on the spectator’s past time. Supposedly, the time spent by the spectators was animated and lively. The audience engaged in wide variety of occupations, gaming and betting. Games were played directly on the amphitheater steps where they created tabulae lusoriae, carving them into the stone (game boards or checker boards). The counters were made from varied matereials (bone, glass paste, pebbles, pottery). The rules of the games are not well known but tabulae lusoriae is even found on the road across the Colosseum, the Via Labicana.

The entertainment always wasn’t innocent. There was betting involved which was banned in general and only allowed on certain days like the Saturnalia, the birthday of Saturn. Saturnalia was later replaced by the festivities of Christmas. Then, as now, gifts and food were exchanged and games of chance like Bingo, were made lawful for the day.

It has also been known that players hid from officials on the steps of the amphitheater, a large number of knuckle bones were discovered on the steps of the Colosseum. There were also pictorial depictions of brawls and lovely epigraphic fund of insults. The love of the games was very common. There was no distinction of class or sex, uniting both common people and the nobility, men and women. I liked this part.

The seating was interesting and of course, predictable. The series of stepped seating areas, the cavea, highlighted the distinctions between the classes of the Roman society, in progression – from low to high – of five sections, starting with the privileged seats on the podium next to the arena, up to the wooden steps inside the colonnaded portico occupied by the plebians.

I cannot mention Colosseum without talking a little bit of blood and gore. The blood of the gladiators was sponged up and fed a thriving business. It was believed drinking human blood cured epilepsy and of course, the blood of the martyrs had healing properties.

From the inside of the amphitheater.
Imagine the gladiators rushing out through these tunnels, the animals, the prisoners.

From the Colosseum, I walked back to the hotel without getting lost even once. I mention this simply because I don’t have a very good sense of direction and will never win any prizes as a map reader. Oh, and I always get lost! So when I saw the street of my hotel – it was a proud moment. A small pizzeria near my hotel was extremely crowded, thronged mainly by Italians, so I figured the pizza must be pretty authentic. Ordered a salami pizza and dealt with sweet Italian flirting by the pizzeria owner. If you want your pizza on the go, they cut the pizza up in two halves, make them into a sandwich and wrap them up for you. I took mine to the Area Sacra Di Largo Argentina (Sacred Area of Largo Argentina). This houses the remains of four temples, and is well known as well because it was used as the Senate and it was here that Julius Caeser was assassinated on March 15th, 44 BC. Now the ruins house stray cats.

The remains of a temple in Area Sacra Di Largo Argentia

Following the ‘when in Rome, act like Roman’ rule, went back to the hotel for a short siesta, and did some writing and editing pictures. Then headed out to the famous Piazza Novona for some music, artwork and people watching. It is always a lively place with musicians serenading the diners in the upscale restaurants surrounding the piazza, local artists selling their artwork, entertainers trying to entertain tourists with their acts. I sat there for a while just watching beautifully dressed men and women relaxing with drinks, dinner and cigarette. There is the beautiful Chiesa di S Agnese in Agone at one side of Piazza Novona. I went in. The architecture and frescoes were astounding but photography wasn’t allowed in there. There were some folks clicking away, but my rule follower self quickly put my camera in the camera bag to resist temptation. I sat in one of the pews instead and looked around. The common motif was suffering, agony and martyrdom in the mortal world while angels and cherubs waited with olive branches and garlands to welcome the suffering men and women to the eternal world. The ceiling was so exquisitely painted with vibrant blues and gold, I did feel a twinge of disappointment at not being able to capture it in my camera.

After a delicious dinner of crottchetta de pollo (dumpling made of rice, cheese and chicken – deep fried, of course) and this

The fluffiest strawberry cheesecake I have ever had.

I came back to the hotel to find Sean waiting for me. He succeeded in making me feel guilty about eating dinner without him, while he rushed back from work to have dinner with me, so I went out, again, to get him something to eat. We walked all the way to the Trevi fountain, bought a delicious biscuit flavored gelato (my second dessert for the night) and sat by the steps of the Trevi fountain marveling at the illuminated statue of the Ocean, which rides in a chariot drawn by two sea horses and two Tritons. I read ‘Tradition claims one coin (cast backward over the left shoulder) ensures a return to Rome, two bring love and three as wedding in the Eternal City.’ Whoever is cleaning out the fountain is making a fortune, methinks. But one is also alerted that this area is notorious for pickpockets as well.

The Trevi fountain.

I will end this long blog with a realization and a wonderful experience. First the realization. I realized that after a very long time, I was actually the master of my own schedule for seven whole days. I wasn’t accountable for anybody or anything. I was free of sport schedules, homework schedule, dinner, baths, disciplining et all. The whole day luxuriously stretched ahead of me to do whatever I pleased with it. This was a rare opportunity indeed and I planned to make the most of it. I was free…for seven days.

The beautiful experience was at Chiesa Santa Maria Maddalena, a church dedicated to Mary Magdalene. I left the bustling Della Rotonda in front of the Pantheon to explore the church of Maria Maddalena. I am attracted to the churches in Rome for their architecture, the ambiance, the sculptures, the ceilings and the frescoes and mosaics. This church, too, did not disappoint. It was ornate, beautiful, serene. But a mass was being celebrated. After overcoming my initial irritation at the wrong timing, I decided to sit at the last pew to wait for the mass to end. My legs were weary and my camera bag seemed to be getting heavier by the minute.

The sweet, calm voice of the priest and the musical notes of Latin did magic to my senses. The sound, completely incomprehensible, unbelievably sweet, washed over me, soothed my tired body and mind. I felt overwhelmed at my good fortune – sitting in Rome, in a beautiful church, listening to mass in Latin. I am not religious but the solemnity of the rituals of the communion moved me. There were no more than ten people in the church listening to mass yet the beauty of their faith was fascinating. The scene was surreal. I left when the mass ended, content, truly happy and without any pictures. I will go back.

Plan for day three is to pay homage to the Sistine Chapel at the Musei Vaticani. Hope the line isn’t too long.

AMOR! Some call her ROMA! Day one.


Rome….ephemeral, enigmatic, modern, ancient. Longfellow wrote: “Tis the centre to which all gravitates. One finds no rest elsewhere than here. There may be other cities that please us for a while, but Rome alone completely satisfies. It becomes to all a second native land by predilection, and not by accident of birth alone.” That sentiment holds true for me as well. Rome is like Janus, the two-faced ancient god of new beginnings and transitions, who looks forward while peering back. The main streets bustle with traffic and dazzle with Gucci, Prada, Dolce & Gabbanas, yet the quiet narrow alleyways wind between warm, brick tones of houses to small piazzas, or to staircases descending to bubbling fountains.

Sean and I were headed to Rome for a week. My mother’s day/birthday gift from my husband. I left my electronic devices at home including the cell phone. Packed a notebook and lots of pens to take notes, write down streams of consciousness in the old-fashioned way.

As we started our descent to Rome after an almost nine-hour flight, I chanced to look out of the window to get a glimpse of this – the snow and cloud encrusted top of the Alps. I have rarely known such happiness at a sight.

Alps from the plane.

After we disembarked the plane and cleared customs, I went looking for a ladies room along with some other women, only to discover that most of the restrooms in that particular terminal were blocked AT THE SAME TIME for cleaning. Some ladies tried to explain to the janitor in English why that may seem unreasonable to many. The janitor tried to explain to the ladies with a nonchalant shrug that he really didn’t care. One disgruntled female voice said ‘Welcome to Italy!’ We stood in a long line in front of one bathroom for the disabled to take care of our business while sharing commiserating smiles and shrugs with each other. I came back to the luggage area to find that Sean’s bag was missing along with a few others’. My joy at being in Rome started deflating a bit. Amidst utter confusion, we were told one of the conveyor belts was malfunctioning, more bags are on their way. Finally, Sean’s bag danced its way to us. All was good with the world again.

Our sweet cab driver did not speak a word of English. Sean tried his Spanish and fake Italian to give directions. It worked. We arrived at our Hotel Arenula on Via Arenula. I couldn’t be happier with its location, my favorite Pantheon was a mere seven minute walk!

After a refreshing shower and a two-hour nap, we were ready to take on Rome. I was so excited and awed at the same time to be in Rome after 10 long years I started suffering from my country mouse syndrome – stepping off curbs in the face of on coming traffic to click pictures, bumping into people and saying ‘scuzi’ a hundred times. Sean tells me he had to clutch my shirt twice to pull me out of the road while I was busy taking pictures but I don’t believe him for a minute! Before reaching the Pantheon we stopped for a bit of lunch at a small pizzeria. I had a hot dog (sorry) and Sean ordered a pizza with fresh tomato, basil and mozzarella. We shared a spinach dumpling, whose Italian name I completely forget.

Next stop was the Pantheon, which is now called Chiesa S Maria Ad Martyres. Originally, the Pantheon was a temple built by Agrippa in 27 B.C dedicated to all gods. Byzantine empire donated it to Pope Boniface IV around 608 Ad.

The impressive Pantheon
The mighty bronze door leads into a circular interior, which could contain 43m (142 ft) globe inside it.
The circular opening at the top of the dome.

For me, personally, the tomb of Raphael was meaningful. It is composed of a beautiful antique sarcophagus. He died in 1520 at age 37. Found an interesting information about the inscription written on the upper edge by Cardinal Pietro Bembo, poet and humanist (1470 – 1547). Supposedly, Alexander Pope translated the inscription without acknowledging the Cardinal for another epitaph.

“Living, great nature feared
he might outvie
Her works; and dying fears
herself to die.”

Piazza della Rotonda, surrounding the Pantheon is a vibrant place with restaurants, pizzerias, snack bars and gelato places. And a great place to people watch, if one is so inclined. The fountain in the center was designed in 1578 by Giacomo Della Porta and in 1711 Pope Clement XI stacked an obelisk on top which came from the temple of Isis.

Buzzing Piazza della Rotondo

Pantheon was my choice, I gave Sean the option to choose our next destination. He chose St. Peter’s Basilica. It is a long walk from the Pantheon but we were up for it. On our way, we stopped by to peer into the gorgeous Chiesa Luigi Dei Francessa. The beauty of the frescoes on the ceiling and the sculptures were completely overwhelming.

Back on our way to Basilica, we caught a glimpse of the Castel Sant’ Angelo and the Bridge of the Angels.

Bridge of the Angels.

The Basilica, a humbling experience as always. Spent a few moments standing in front of The Pieta taking in the beauty and serenity in Mary’s face, holding her dead son in her lap.

The main alter at St. Peter’s with the sunlight streaming in.
Michaelangelo’s The Pieta

We needed to get back to meet Sean’s colleagues for dinner at Trastevere so we did a quick, unsatisfactory tour of the Basilica and ran out. I didn’t mind since I had already planned a trip to the Basilica on my own one of the days during our stay. We rushed out but not before getting a snap of my favorite

The Swiss guard.

The day ended with a lovely dinner of pasta with bacon and cream with some lovely people. Came back to the hotel to jot down notes, edit pictures and went to bed happy thinking of the six more days of exploring Rome that lay ahead of me.

The plan for Day 2 was to go to the Roman Forum, Colosseum, Church of San Clemente and Pantheon again.

Being a mom ain’t easy!

If that is not the understatement of the millennium, then I do not know what is! On top of that, it has been reiterated so many times that you have probably stopped reading at this point. Or you didn’t even click on it, thinking “There she goes with one of her original thoughts!” Wink, wink!

I am not talking about the bouts of unexplained crying, the dirty, messy diapers, the temper tantrums in the middle of a parking lot, the filching of candy bars that are within reach from the baby carriage as mommy paid for the grocery, and making mommy trudge all the way back to the store from the parking lot with a gooey, chocolaty baby to pay for the stolen Toblerone, the terrible two’s, three’s…sevens…twelves….! Not talking about explaining difficult phenomenons like God, death, angels, Santa Claus, tooth fairy, nail fairy. Yup, in our family, we TRIED to believe in nail fairy and extract money out of her when accidentally a nail fell off after the finger was caught in a door. Nail fairy didn’t pay a visit, though. Not talking about raising your eyebrows sky-high and pointing to your watch when your daughter talks on the phone for more than half an hour! None of that old stuff! Much has been said on that already.

I am talking about how I can’t be naughty when I want to be. Even when the kids aren’t around, I feel like a hypocrite if I do something that I tell them not to do. I can’t seem to turn off my over worked conscience! My mother had no such qualms. Her mantra to me was ‘Do as I say, don’t do what I do!’ Wish I had adopted that dictum instead of ‘Practice what you preach!’ Reading way too many parenting books will do that to you!

Please be under no false impression that I lead my life perfectly to set an example. Heck no! But I do stop myself from using words like ‘hate’, ‘stupid’, ‘shut up’ ‘dumb’ and others that are no-no in the house! I thank the telemarketer for calling “No, I am not interested in your scheme but thank you sooo much for calling!” instead of slamming the phone down because we are already late for some practice or other. I can’t curse if I want to (good thing I don’t want to curse often), ‘What an idiot’ being my limit! The other predicament is I can’t eat chocolates and other desserts in peace. My guilty conscience or mommy conscience stops me from pilfering and devouring a whole chocolate bar. If I manage to quieten my conscience and open the refrigerator with the intention of stealing, I encounter a bag of candies with this written on it: Mom, keep out! Quite unwillingly, I make a fair share of a chocolate bar. Couple of days ago, I felt extremely low energy. I had a lot of errands to run, grocery shopping being one of them. I decided to treat myself to a delectable chocolate mousse cake as a ‘pick me up’ for lunch. Decadent, I know. I came home feeling very naughty and indulgent. But then I couldn’t eat it. I simply couldn’t! I remembered two faces who absolutely loved dessert. I kept it in the corner of the kitchen eyeing it and ‘cursing’ myself for not buying more of those so I could have one.

Finally, I divided the cake to my two children for after school snack when they came home. Dessert is a very special treat in our house. The little faces lit up “Wowza! What got into mom today? How did we get so lucky? Dessert for snack? And we didn’t have to do a thing to earn it????”

As I said, being a mom ain’t easy, but then again, nobody said it would be! I teach them to behave well and they keep their eyes glued on me so I have to toe the line, most of the times. I guess we help each other ‘grow’!

Mamas around the world, lets raise a glass to the universal mommy hood. Here’s to TRYING our level best to raise some worthy citizens of the world and TRYING to be better humans ourselves, in the process.

There are, fortunately, books on parenting. Really helpful ones which tell us we are not doing this alone. There are others who are trying their very best. Here are some to look at:

Simplicity parenting : using the extraordinary power of less to raise calmer, happier, and more secure kids

Minimalist parenting : enjoy modern family life more by doing less


It could have been my story…..

It could have been my story but it isn’t because of an accident – the accident of birth. I am going to write a story today. A true story that shook me to the core. This story didn’t make the newspaper but it didn’t stay within the neighborhood where it took place either, it spread word to mouth and it reached me here, in America.

Not too long ago, a young woman, who we shall call Reena, was dreaming of a happy home with a loving husband. She didn’t belong to the emergent middle class in India, she was from the lowest strata, living in a simple home in a slum in Kolkata and dreaming of a simple, but content life with the man she was about to marry. It didn’t work out as she had planned, like it often doesn’t! Her husband didn’t share her dreams and didn’t want to share his life with her either. He drove her away after a few years of marriage. The reason? Who cares about it? She is just a woman and she is absolutely replaceable.

Reena came back home broken, abused. Her family did not welcome her with open arms. Why would they? She was just another mouth to feed and their resources were meagre. She had taken her share of the family inheritance in her dowry. When she returned empty-handed, she found she had no support in anyone or in any form. She was stigmatized since she was returned by her husband. It was her shame, she must have been at fault, of course! One day, during a quarrel, her brother said her life was not worth living. She was a burden to them, she was a burden to the world. The woman was emotionally vulnerable to begin with, she broke down completely and set herself on fire to end it, once and for all.

She couldn’t finish the job that she started though. Neighbors rescued her and took her to the hospital. Instead of succumbing to her injuries, she hung on to life. Reena survived. She walked out of that hospital with a misshapen face, disfigured with horrendous scars. She withdrew within herself, hid in the house for a while, covered her face with the pallu of her sari. But for some strange reason, she rediscovered her will to live again. This experience transformed her…gave her a will to try one more time, to take a shot at life. She didn’t talk to a therapist about it, she barely had two square meals but she must have figured out what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger, for she came out of her house swinging, determined to make it!

She was always a hard worker, she started looking for a job as a domestic help. But faced rejection, yet again. People didn’t want to look at a scarred face in their house doing their chores. A retired couple were divided on this issue of hiring Reena. Mrs. Basu wanted to give Reena a job on humanitarian grounds, to give her a chance at life again, while Mr. Basu feared the grandchildren, when they came to visit, will be scared by her. He was sympathetic to what life had dealt her but wasn’t ready to employ her for her deformity.

My India is shining brightly for many. We are hosting the Commonwealth games, beauty pageants, the Formula 1 car racing! It is an exciting time to be in Inda with its trendsetting fashion, booming IT industry, entertainment industry, the telecom industry. The glittering, sparkly malls, the retail therapy that my friends do to pick themselves up when they’ve had a rough day, the big decisions they make whether to buy the Prada handbag, the Jimmy Choo slippers, the latest iPhone or Mac Air. By saying this, I am not passing any judgements on anybody or trying to act holier than thou. If I didn’t dislike shopping with a passion and I had the money, who knows, I would probably do the same! We have been free from the British rule for only 65 years and look where we have come! I applaud the efforts of my country women and men. Hard work, perseverance, grit, determination, talent – a combination of all these have propelled the country forward despite the snail paced bureaucracy and corruption. But there are these pockets of darkness that we need to, yet, illuminate. Many, many good men and women are working hard to make a difference. I have had the good fortune of meeting some of them and seeing the fruits of their effort. While it is certainly encouraging, we still have a long, long way to go. So many women, urban and rural alike are underprivileged, uneducated, and are still at the mercy of societal indifference, neglect and discrimination.

I was discussing the state of women with some Indian friends, while sitting in a beautiful home, eating delicious food, when one of my friends commented that we are not in a position to criticize India. We left the country a while ago and what exactly are we doing to change the situation? We have lost the right to criticize the day we boarded the plane to leave for good. That brought me down from my lofty, all-knowing state and dashed me to harsh reality! My friend was right! It was so easy for me to criticize and point out the problems at a social gathering and then do nothing about it but just return to my comfortable home, to get a good night’s sleep. What a hypocrite!

I couldn’t do a thing to change Reena’s situation but I wanted to try. I spoke to Mr. Basu pleading with him to employ Reena for her skills and not reject her, yet again, this time for the deformity of her face. Children are sensitive, and by giving Reena a job, he can actually set a great example for his grandchildren. This is a perfect opportunity to teach his grandchildren the important lessons of giving a fellow human a chance, to teach them everybody deserves a chance, the lesson of looking deeper for beauty than what is visible to the eye, the lesson of compassion and empathy, the lesson of acceptance of others who may be different! His grandchildren will be enriched by this experience. They will learn from her that if life gives you lemon, make some lemonade. I do believe I have convinced him. I just may have a good night’s sleep tonight.

Don’t go away with the Frenchman, you said he was hot!!!

This happened a long, long time ago, maybe a life time ago! At a time when I had long, black hair, not a touch of those ‘stress related highlights’, when I was in a perpetual sense of wonderment of all the things around me, I was easily amazed, easily happy, when I went places, I actually took the sights and sounds in instead of looking around constantly to see if my kids are within my eyesight, when my thoughts didn’t wander from one schedule to the next, my face didn’t sport the worry lines, it easily broke into a smile, when I thought, felt, experienced! Wow, MUST have been a long time ago. Now that we have established the time frame, on to the main story.

I was very new to Baltimore and I was going with Sean to see Washington D.C for the first time! I had read about Washington D.C, heard stories about it, regarded it with awe! Powerful, make or break decisions were made in the cavernous insides of the beautiful buildings there. Not just of USA, but sometimes the fate of other countries are decided there. Since my blogs are apolitical, we will not get into the merit of those decisions but will leave the readers to make their choice. But I digress.

Sean drove into Washington and quickly ditched me. He had an all day meeting, he brought me along to do the sight-seeing solo. We planned to meet at a place after his meeting to grab a bite. I wasn’t unhappy about being on my own, though. It was a gorgeous day, the green of the mall stretched before me, the reflecting pool reflected the breathtakingly beautiful buildings spread around the mall. I sat on a bench to just take in the beautiful scene  when a young man sat next to me and smiled. Since I am very social (read talker), I smiled back and said hello. It turned out he was from France, traveling alone, first time in Washington D.C, and overwhelmed. His English was slightly better than my French, but we hit it off. I should mention here that  my sweet husband once told me to walk a few steps behind him in Champs de Elysee, Paris, when, in my usual state of wide-eyed innocence, I said at the top of my voice, ‘Sean, this is the famous Champs (ch sounding like CHocolate) de (sounding like DElhi) elysee (el-i-see)! Sean turned to me with a sombre face and said in a quiet voice, ‘You need to walk a few paces behind me because I don’t know you!’ This must have been a terrible faux pas, since he didn’t say that when I didn’t recognize Sting in Varanasi! But then, he is a little snooty about his French and Spanish!

All this was to make it clear that my French is terrible….ok, non-existent. The Frenchman could speak English, barely. But we decided to tour Washington D.C together. We did the usual touristy stuff, went up to the Washington monument, Jefferson memorial, Lincoln memorial, et all. I helped him out in ticket counters, took pictures of him with his camera, he took pictures of me with my camera, had lunch. It was fun to discover a new city with a new friend. At the end of the day we parted ways without exchanging numbers or promises to stay in touch. We both knew that this was where our camaraderie ended.

I met Sean at the appointed time (I am pretty sure he was late, he always is) and gushed about what a wonderful day I had with a friend.

‘How awesome! You met an old friend here?’ he asked.

‘No, I made a new one!’ I told him about my new friend.

My husband is not the jealous type at all but till date, 14 years later, he sometimes jokingly talks about my ‘going out with the Frenchman’! We have shared many a laugh over it and  my kids have been told the story as well. No prizes for guessing who told them the story, though.

Anyway, Sean and I are planning to go to Rome for a week. He has a meeting, I am tagging along to revisit one of my absolute favorite cities.  The kids are being left with the grandparents. Predictably, the preteen girl is ecstatic about this unexpected freedom from parental watchfulness. She is arranging rides for her innumerable student council meetings, birthday parties, and other social activities. I am just standing by the side line watching her manage her social life and her rides with such ease. She truly is on her way to growing up!!! But the little guy is not super happy about the prospect of both parents leaving for a week. He is split between looking forward to being pampered rotten by the grandparents and missing mom and dad. So he is trying everything in his power to make us review our decision to go. Last night, the dinner table conversation went like this:

“Dad, you really shouldn’t take mom with you!” he said.

“Why Ryan? You will have so much fun with Didiya and Dadai!” Sean said.

“Yes, I know. But Dad, what if mom finds a Frenchman when you are in a meeting?”

I had to interject, “What Frenchman, Ryan? Why would I find a Frenchman? What are you talking about???”

“Just like you found a Frenchman in Washington D.C when dad was in a meeting. And you said he was hot!” he points out.

Sean burst out laughing while I glared daggers at him.

“I didn’t say he was hot, I don’t even remember how he looked!” I try (its the truth)!

“Yes, you did! Yes, you did! You said he was hot! Dad, don’t take mom to Rome, don’t take her!”

Katy Perry, Drake, LMFAO, and other singers of the ilk, you are banned from my radio stations.  Why does a seven-year old talk about ‘hot’??? Oh wait, he does have an almost thirteen year old sister!