I wanted to catch a sunrise from the balcony of our ocean front hotel room. I did not set any alarms to wake up at the time of sunrise, thinking my body will wake up in anticipation. It did, except it woke up just 10 minutes late. I saw Sahana sitting on the balcony, soft light of the morning sun gently illuminating her beautiful face. She turned her bright, happy smile towards me “I watched the sun rise!” This is what I got to see.
The sun had risen just above the horizon and the golden ball was reflected over the water. I missed sunrise by just 10 minutes. I consoled myself thinking it was the first morning of our last-minute beach vacation. We still had 5 more mornings to catch a sunrise.
The pandemic played havoc with our plans of going to India in May and Sahana’s move to college for her senior year. As each plan fell through, we shed a few tears and then hoped that that this year will pass, life will resume, perhaps in a reimagined way. We will see our loved ones in different parts of the world. Our children will go back to in person learning in a safe, virus free environment. Since Sean and I had both taken leave for a week to move Sahana in to her apartment in college (that plan fell through), we decided to take the time to replenish our reserves of patience, hope, resilience. We splurged and booked an ocean front room with a kitchenette. If I felt too anxious to go among people, I could simply sit on the balcony and count waves. Our previous beach vacation at the beginning of July was anxiety provoking for me. I wrote about it in “Kissing in the time of Corona”.
The day I missed my sunrise, we walked by the bay to catch the sun set. We were not disappointed. Nature, perhaps, knew that our soul needed some resuscitation and it suffused us with its glory.
The second day I missed the sunrise by 15 minutes. Why did I not set an alarm you ask? That is a good question. I guess I trusted my innate clock yet again.
My eyes opened on the third day when it was pitch dark in the room. I glanced at the clock to see the time. It was 6:05 am. The sun was supposed to rise at 6:10 am. I sat right up and rushed to the balcony. I open the door with care so as not to wake the rest of the family. Dense fog over the ocean dashed my hopes of seeing a radiant sunrise. Crestfallen, I went back to bed and slept till 8 am. I woke up to a sun kissed day and glistening sand. Fog robbed me of my sunrise but then the sun burnt away the fog to gift the ocean worshipers a gorgeous beach day.
Finally I viewed the glory on our penultimate day at the beach. Again, my biological clock woke me up. I looked at the time, whispered to Sahana if she wanted to view sunrise. She grunted something inaudible. The boys had no desire to chase sunrise, so I did not bother calling them. I tiptoed out to the balcony with my phone and witnessed the ball of fire making its journey to my part of the world. I found my religion in its splendor.
Myphone camera, of course, does not do any justice to the ephemeral beauty of sun rising over the ocean but the memory of that resplendent dawn is captured in my heart. This is simply a fragment of what I saw.
Life was at bay while I looked at the expanse of the ocean for 6 days, while my family kayaked in the still waters of the bay and I pulled my chair in the water soaking in the stillness and serenity in my soul. Life was at bay when we delighted in the sightings of wild ponies and walked the marshy lands to see unknown (to me) birds and snowy egrets, while we stopped at unexplored ice cream shops to taste homemade ice creams, while we ordered crab imperial and legs of snow crabs. The question “Do you have your mask on?” every time we left our hotel and seeing masked people on the road reminded us we were living through a pandemic. Those 6 days, from the safety of my balcony and sometimes from empty stretches of the beach, I simply sat and stared at the ocean. The hypnotizing crashing of waves, the endlessness of the ocean, the sand between my toes, the laughter of children playing on the beach, the comfort of a book in my hand and the closeness of my husband and children made me completely happy. The feeling of happiness was a conscious realization really. I said to Sean, somewhat bewildered, “I feel happy.” In these 5 or 6 months, I had forgotten how it felt to be completely happy.
We were masked for most part of our vacation. We cooked our meals and got take outs for some dinners. We never played miniature golf, which is our constant (apart from sun and sand) when we go to the beach. Yet, we found peace. Most importantly, perhaps, we filled up our reserves of hope that this phase of our lives too shall pass. We will reunite with humankind instead of going the other way, fearing contamination from my fellow human.
In the meantime, I will look back to this memory for sustenance on a dark and gloomy day.
The act of getting my family out of the door is blog worthy in itself. Sean zooms around the house with an air of ‘oh I am so responsible for the security of this house’, closing a flap here, a door there. Ryan clutches on to his minuscule star war figure (please don’t ask me which one, because I am that kind of a human who confuses Star wars with Star Trek, causing fans to shudder) and lazes around with no sense of urgency, whatsoever. Sahana, dons her tattered boots and shoves her little journal and pen IN her boots, and settles down on the couch with a deep, thought provoking book like Inferno or Dr. Faustus. That kid is weird, and I like her. I purposefully walk into a room and promptly forget why I came in in the first place because mentally I am checking the mile long list of little things that can preempt any kind of disaster like sore throat or upset stomach or a 102 fever. Once we are ready to go, Sean runs in to do one more thing that needs to be done. When he comes out, I run in because I forgot my waterbottle. And when I come out, the kids run in, either to go the bathroom, or because the answer to ‘do you have your coat?’ was a subdued ‘nooooo!’ Yes, we are predictable! And if Jerome K. Jerome was alive, he would have written a wonderful short story about us.
That is exactly how it panned out before our car trip to Williamsburg, Virginia. Finally, the seatbelts were clicked, the ignition turned on, my shoes were off, feet on the dashboard and we were on our way. Right away, there was a major disagreement over the choice of music – Dixie Chicks or Veggie Tales, which I squelched with ‘You guys settle down….or else…’ threat. Peace prevailed for a couple of hours till:
‘I need to go to the bathroom, NOW!’ – Ryan’s plaintive voice.
At that moment, we were sitting in traffic on I 495 south with long serpentine line of cars ahead, moving at snail’s pace.
‘Daddyyyyyy, I need to go the BATHROOM!’
‘Ok, buddy! I will try to find one, as soon as I can!’
After some whimpering and crying and moaning and requesting his helpless parents, Ryan got angry and resentful. This is how he is going to take revenge on us for not helping him out in his present state of discomfort:
‘When I am older and you guys are too old to drive, I am going to drive you guys around and not stop at a bathroom when you guys need to go!’
Sean and I, looking desperately for a hole in traffic to get to an exit, exchanged glances, trying hard not to laugh out loud….fearing our fate in old age!
Long story short, we got off at the nearest exit after many more tears and oohs and ouches. We found a bathroom. Ryan emerged after doing his business with a huge toothless smile, the relief on his face was palpable. We got hopelessly lost and completed the 3 hour trip in 5 and a half hours.
There were some moments when I shook my head and wondered why we bothered. There were some fights, sibling rivalry, some shoves and pushes and temper tantrums. But those were few compared to the skipping, jumping, tinkling laughter, camaraderie and sibling love.
At Busch Gardens, I was dragged kicking and screaming to ride the Lochness monster so that we could tell posterity that we rode that horrendously scary ride as a family. I planned to be an observer of the jollity at the amusement park and use the excuse of my camera to get out of riding scary rides. The plan failed. A locker was found, our stuff was stuffed and I was, very unwillingly, dragged to the rides. I screamed myself hoarse – a happy scream. And felt very daring and brave afterwards as I stood there watching people go up high and get dashed to the ground…just about. I wondered who was having more fun going on the rides – Sean or Ryan. Sean tried to use the fearless Ryan as his pretext to get on each and every ride ‘A grown up must accompany Ry, so I have got to go, you see!’ When Ryan was barred from going on the scariest ride, the Griffon, due to his height, Sean’s ruse failed. He admitted, he would go on it by himself and would I care to join him….for love. I gave him a kiss and told him I loved him, but not enough to get on a ride that is described as such in Wikipedia:
205-foot 90° drop
146-foot (45 m) Immelmann
130-foot 87° drop
100-foot (30 m) Immelmann
360° Climbing carousel turn
It takes one up 205 feet, goes over the edge for a few seconds so one can look straight down 90 degree drop, before it plummets down, 70 miles an hour. And that is the beginning of several twists and turns.
He went alone. And came back exhilarated.
Sahana made it a point to mention to me every time I wanted to take a picture that “You guys are such tourists. I hate tourists!” My response to that was “Be quiet and go stand next to your brother!” She went with a slight grin on her face and reiterated that she hated such touristy behavior. We did the tour of James Town, lunched by the beautiful York River, strolled the historic lanes of Williamsburg, went on a guided tour of “Ghosts among us” and heard stories of vampires, cannibals and ghosts that supposedly frequented and still haunt the streets and mansions of Williamsburg. We played mini golf and ate ice cream. We laughed and teased and hugged each other.
As the children ran ahead of us, excited at things they saw, chattering happily, Sean and I looked at them and realized a few things. First, they are growing up way too fast. Life is going by us and we aren’t making much of an effort to stop time to enjoy the moment, we are too caught up in meeting deadlines, working, taking them to structured activities, paying bills, worrying about their future. We sometimes forget to enjoy the present because we are doggedly focused on their future. A little time outside the structured life we lead, gives us the chance to really see them, as the little humans that they are becoming.
The vacation wasn’t perfect. We are not a perfect family with well behaved kids and smiling, patient parents like they show on television. There were moments, as I said, when I wonderer if going away is really worth it. Sahana’s temper flared, Ryan whined and whined to buy a toy gun. Sean almost made Ryan go to bed without dinner for bad behavior, I yelled at them to stop fighting. But those moments have already been shut down in a tiny, little compartment in my head. The moments that I will air out and smile upon are the brilliant, happy smile of my thirteen year old Sahana, constantly scribbling quotations in her little journal, toothless laughter of young Ryan after riding the Lochness monster, the beaming face of my husband, who posseses the ability to have most fun in any vacation. I can cope with my regular, google calendar dictated life for a while. The happy moments will see me through. When dark clouds start gathering in the horizon, I will need to pack up my little family, and get away again, to regroup and rejuvenate, to bond and to be part of some meaningful experience – together.
There were probably more than ten thousand people on Dashwashamedh Ghat in Varanasi that evening to watch the evening puja. And my two-year old daughter decided to assert her new-found independence amongst that mass of humanity. She rebelled in Sean’s arms, scrambled down and started walking away to explore the chaos around her on her own two feet and in her own terms. She looked back at us and dared us to challenge her stand – the days of molly coddling me are over, parents! Deal with it.
For the uninitiated, Dashwashamedh Ghat is the most important ghat on the bank of the holy river Ganga, in the city of Varanasi in India. Varanasi is one place where ancient India has been preserved in its essence and ambiance. The old city seems to be warped in time, continuing the ancient heritage with the rituals, the lighting and floating of the diyas, the chants, the priests, the faith. To me, Varanasi, especially the old city, still retains the aura of the India that we read about in history books. The mystics, the sadhus, the beliefs, the believers – Varanasi is the confluence of all these. And Dashwashamedh Ghat happens to be the most famous of the ghats on the banks of the river Ganges where one can see the mass of humanity proclaiming their faith – seeking and hopefully finding too.
Sahana took off and immediately got lost. I shrieked, Sean sprinted towards the direction she headed, she hadn’t made too much progress since she had been picked up by a sadhu (holy man) and the two were chatting like long-lost friends.
The gentleman said a lot to Sean with a beaming smile, Sean returned the beaming smile but shrugged helplessly when it came to conversation. The man kept Sahana on his lap and continued to introduce her to his fellow sadhus. They all talked to her, laughed with her, let her touch their white matted beards, tug their matted hair and touch the beads around their necks, blessed her and gave her some fruit. Sean and I tagged along behind them, not taking our eyes off our precious daughter, yet the camaraderie between the little girl and those men were so evident, we didn’t have the heart to intrude. Finally, when all the talk was done, all the laughter was shared, the man handed Sahana back to us with a final blessing to the child.
Next day we went to a temple, where Sean was allowed to go in. It was crowded, the seekers were seeking blessings from the goddess, we were mere spectators of the ritual and of the celebration of the faith. Sahana let go of my finger and walked along to stand next to a blind man who was playing a harmonium and singing devotional songs. She listened intently for a while, with the air of a connoisseur, and then decided such music deserved some dancing. She started twirling and dancing in front of the blind man. People stopped to watch, the murmur stopped, the priests paused. There was this little baby girl in a white frock and a dark-skinned, blind old man in white kurta and pajama. The world belonged to them. The moment was surreal. A crowd formed around them. A man standing next to me said in a reverent whisper, “The goddess is in that child, you see. The goddess is dancing to the music. God manifests itself in children, and you see the proof. The child is one with the goddess now!”
We were in Ubud, Bali, when Sahana was about seven months old. We were walking along the beautiful city with Sahana in our arms when a matronly lady came running out of a house, smiling and chattering to us in her own language she took Sahana from our arms and started walking back to her house. Sean and I were so surprised at this sweet, smiling assault that we couldn’t react for a few seconds. We, then, ran after the lady quietly and entered her house. She was showing the baby to her family members and although we didn’t understand anything that was being said, we understood the universal language of love. We stood there basking in the reflected glory of baby Sahana till the family had their fill of her gummy smiles and belly laughs and handed her back to her expectant parents so we could continue our leisurely sojourn through the city. A lot was said to us in their language and some treats were given to us for the little one.
A very dear friend wrote a letter to Sahana right after she was born. Her first letter. In the letter, our friend said to her not to believe when people say the world is not a good place at all. The world is so beautiful and she will discover it for herself one day – the beauty of it all. I truly believe that is true. I think she is already on her way to discovering how beautiful our world is. How can she not when her life has been and is constantly touched and blessed by all the love that surrounds her?
Last year we went back to Kolkata, India during the summer. I asked my children to tell me what they liked the most about Kolkata and what they liked the least. The least liked aspect of Kolkata was the smell and the honking of the cars. The most liked aspect was the love that they felt everywhere they went. Grandparents, uncles, aunts, the autodriver who advised their mother, after seeing they were drenched in a summer rain, ‘Didi, make sure you go home and have the little ones take hot showers, so they don’t catch a cold” ; the bus driver, who held their hand so they could get down safely from the rickety public bus, the local sweet shop owner who always gave a special sweetmeat to the kiddos, as a special treat for going by his sweet shop.
My children have been touched by so much love in their lives that sometimes I wonder how could they not turn out well. They have felt the love in so many places, in so many ways, by so many people, in so many countries. How can they remain immune to the good will and love that surround them?
Hug your children a little tighter friends, so they feel the warmth. And they remember the warmth. So they can carry the warmth with them when they grow up and share it with those who are unloved and cast aside. Heaven knows, we need a lot of that love and warmth to obliterate the suffering and pain caused by cold hearts. The world needs more loving, hope the loved ones can provide.
A friend recently wished me ‘May your dreams come true!’ When I hear such a wish, I say a thank you, I do feel gratitude towards the person for wishing me well, but to be completely honest, I don’t think about what the wish was. I feel happy for having a well-wisher and reciprocate the good wish.
But today, my friend’s wish made me wonder about my dreams. What are they? All I could think of was dreams FOR my children. I couldn’t think of a single dream of mine, a personal dream, a personal aspiration. In the process of growing up and becoming a mother, my personal dreams have been left somewhere along the way.
As a young woman, I dreamed of studying theater, that didn’t work out due to circumstances. I took up other jobs to earn money but they were just jobs, they were not stepping-stones to fulfil any dreams of doing something with my life, being someone! They were jobs, not my passion. Then came marriage and children. I got busy being a mother and without my knowledge my personal dreams gave way to dreams for my children. My dreams are my children grow up to be healthy and happy! Oh, did I forget successful? Yes, successful too, in finding happiness, that is.
To be truthful, I felt at a loss for this lack, in my life. But then after pondering some more, I thought was dream different from aspirations? I dream of going to Spain one day, I want to see the Angel falls, I would like to visit Yosemite. Can those be considered my personal dreams? And are aspirations what I want to be in life? I posed my husband this question. He aspires to be a better father, a better husband, he aspires to serve more people in his daily work, see a farmer grow his own crop to sustain his family, a mother open a small business to earn more money, one more child receive the light of knowledge. His dreams? To travel together and see the world. I now have to figure out what I aspire to be. All I could think of was I aspire to be less judgmental, more patient. I aspire to evolve and learn and grow in kindness, love and acceptance of others.
He led me to the right track. Aspirations need not necessarily mean success in the material world. I am not saying that is not important. Making something out of one’s life is fulfilling indeed. I am trying to say that qualitative not quantitative aspirations may bring us that elusive inner peace that we all strive towards.
Upon realizing that my dreams are all FOR my children, I made a mental note NOT to live my dreams through them but to be the wind beneath their sail when they embark upon that journey of pursuing their dreams.
Having written the above paragraphs on a rare Eeyore day, when the sun must not have been shining, I thought on my lack of dreams some more. I do NOT want this blog to become one of the sacrifice I made for the sake of my children. I did NOT make any sacrifice at all. It is my absolute good fortune that I have the opportunity to stay home – raise my children, read good books, write blogs (alright throw in some of the chores). My husband can’t wait to trade places with me one day. I am no martyr when I say my dreams got left behind somewhere. I realized, on a lovely walk with my dog on a beautiful, sunshiny day, this was my dream all along and I am living it. I dreamed of marrying Sean, I am living it. I dreamed of traveling, I lived it and hope to live more of it one day, I dreamed of having children, I was blessed with two healthy children who fill up my life with joy….mostly, and lets admit it, frustration sometimes.
I ask myself a question when the existential angst creeps in my mind (blame it on those gray days, when the sun doesn’t shine on my face). I ask myself if I could change anything in my life at the moment, what would it be. I come up with ‘nothing’. ‘Nothing’ is good, ‘nothing’ makes me take a deep breath, appreciate my life and move on.
But before moving on, I want to raise a cup of cheer to the universe ‘Here’s to living our dreams, people of the world. Let’s chase those dreams, whatever they may be!’ I want this post with this thought that I found very beautiful:
If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.
Henry David Thoreau
Sean had the final day off. We were about to experience Rome for the day, together. After our usual breakfast of croissants, coffee, cereal in huge quantity (Sean) served by a sweet, smiling Italian lady at the hotel, we walked from our hotel to a vibrant, open air market place in Campo dei Fiori. Fruit and vegetable vendors lay their produce in an attractive array. The entire place looked lively and colorful with bright red tomatoes, shiny cherries, green leafy vegetables. Pasta sellers spread out their pastas in a colorful display. Trinket sellers had their earrings, necklaces, murano glass jewellery out attractively to lure customers to their stalls. And lure they certainly did, I couldn’t resist their charm, broke down and bought a charm bracelet. I wore it right away and looked at it admiringly from time to time as we walked towards the Basilica of St. Peter’s.
Sean is not the kind of guy to stand in line. For him, Rome is special for its ambiance – the narrow cobble-stoned alleys, the little quaint shops, the ancient feel of the city, the Jewish quarter, the mysterious stairways leading to gorgeous doors, ancient ruins dotted all over the city, the walks along river Tiber, the food and the romance in the air. He would rather walk indeterminately enjoying the sights and sounds of Rome than stand in line to enter the Colosseum, the Vatican or the Roman Forum (the line to get tickets to enter the forum can be pretty long). Since this was his only day off, I gave him the freedom to choose our destination. I was just happy to be with him! If he was writing the blog, however, he would strongly disagree to the ‘freedom to choose’ bit. I desperately wanted to see the Castel Sant’ Angel, so I couldn’t help interject such lines from time to time ‘You know, we should see the inside of Castel Sant’ Angel sometime, I haven’t been inside the castle yet!’ But then quickly qualified the statement with ‘I am not telling you what to do, it was just a suggestion!’
After a while, Sean played along with “So, what should I plan to do again? Should I plan to go see the inside of Castel Sant’ Angel?” You guessed it, we ended up in the Castle of Angels!
This was built on Tiber river by King Hadrian and then converted into a military fortress. It is named after the archangel Michael at the entrance to the museum.
In the evening, we decided to truly get lost in the interconnected narrow, mysterious, ancient looking alleyways of beautiful Rome. We walked the streets aimlessly, without a clue or purpose. We saw some treasures hidden in these little lanes, some unknown yet ornately decorated churches, back of a beaten up dilapidated house made beautiful by fragrant, bright flowers, old arch bridges, moss-covered steps leading to gorgeous doorways, little cafes and gelatarios.
At the cost of never getting an advertisement offer from McDonald’s for my blog site, I must admit that I shuddered at the sight of these golden arches in Rome. For me it was akin to blasphemy, the presence of the fast food chain in the land of leisurely dining and delicious cuisine. But soon, due to the dearth of public restrooms in Rome, my feeling changed from horror to reassurance at sighting of McDonald’s. It did wonders for my peace of mind. Enough of bathroom talk, moving on.
We bought some gifts at a souvenir shop for my parents and the children who were becoming very real to me with every passing minute. I was missing them. I was ready to go home. We went back to Trastevere area for a dinner of spaghetti alla amatriciana (spaghetti with bacon and tomato sauce) and ended the evening with canoli with chocolate chips. Our last gelato for a while.
I want to mention that I probably ate bacon almost every day during my stay in Rome, either in my pizza or my pasta. I don’t eat much bacon back home. The health freak in me makes me buy the leanest bacon possible. I find it tasteless. The bacon, in Rome, was the real deal with fat dripping off them on my shirt and probably clogging my artery as I write this journal! But I didn’t care. That was the joy of being on vacation. I knew this was short-term, I could afford to be indulgent, I could afford to eat fatty bacon, I could afford to eat dessert every day (one day even twice). That feeling made this Roman Holiday memorable, dream like.
Last night, I went to bed truly content. Amidst all the happy moments I have had in my life, my time in Rome just got included in the list. I had a happy time, carefree, stress free, free from the shackles of schedule. But I was ready to go back and take charge again. On the flight back home, between watching four movies back to back, I pondered a little bit about the ‘connected’ life I led. I honestly felt, I need to disconnect a bit to connect more with the people who matter to me the most. Between the schedules and running around, focusing on one particular thing was becoming rarer for me. While I read with Ryan, my mind was already planning where I had to be the next day and when. While listening to Sahana’s middle school woes, part of my focus was on the half filled milk jar and whether that would last till breakfast. Whatever little time I had in between, I spent it on the net chatting with friends so my mind didn’t wander on the mundane chores. The net, for the lack of better words, had become my escape from my busy, schedule filled life. I wanted to change that.
My Roman Holiday ended. But the feel of it stayed with me. I wrote these blogs so when the memory starts to fade and I need some sustenance and a breath of fresh air, I can come back to these and relive the days. Thank you all for reading and being a part of my holiday. Signing off!
My plan for today was to cover the Basilica of St. Peter’s and Castel Sant’ Angelo. But the Castel Sant’ Angelo didn’t work out. I wanted to go up to the dome and cupola of St. Peter’s to see Rome, once again, from the top of the world. From my hotel, I leisurely walked towards the Vatican, arrived at the courtyard around 9:30 am and discovered that the line to enter was a mile long. First inclination was to turn away but then I thought of The Pieta. I was leaving Rome in a couple of days, I had to say my last goodbye to her. I have been inside the Basilica innumerable times. Our hotel during our last visit to Rome many moons ago, was a mere 10 minutes walk from the Basilica. I came whenever I felt overwhelmed or tired to escape into the cool interiors of this beautiful church. But it never grew old for me. I always seemed to find one sculpture or one mosaic that I had missed before. I am not knowledgeable enough to do full justice to this sacred monument of the Catholics, but I do love the architecture, the sculptures and the mosaics. I also love the feeling of stepping into an old world as I cross the threshold of the church. I simply have to will the crowd away and they fade away for me till a hard shove of a push bring me back to reality.
I waited in line for an hour and a half to gain entry. My love for people watching makes these long waits bearable and sometimes even enjoyable. Moreover, the wait was just means to an astounding, beautiful, simply fascinating end. That thought sustained me.
Once the security check was done and I was deemed safe enough to enter St. Peter’s, I made my way to the ticket counter to buy a ticket to go up to the dome. It was 7 euros to take the elevator and 5 euros to take the stairs. I am ashamed to admit that I opted for the elevator to go up to the cupola.
We had to climb 342 extremely narrow stairs up to the dome. I was very happy to discover that I could get up those stairs without breaking much of a sweat. All those harrowing hours at the gym had paid off.
The view from up top was worth the effort.
After paying homage to The Pieta and whispering my farewell, I swung my bags on my shoulders and started the long hike back home. It was getting late in the afternoon, so postponed the trip to Castel Sant’ Angel till the next day. As I walked back contemplating which kind of pizza to eat for lunch I heard a woman’s voice calling my name. I turned around surprised. Who could know me in the city of Rome! Took my shades off and saw the smiling face of a school friend from Kolkata, India, whom I hadn’t seen for the last twenty years! She was touring Europe with her husband and two girls. Meeting a friend from my girlhood days in the city of Roma!!! We squealed, we hugged, we talked at the same time, we squealed again, asked about each other, hugged again and said “Can you believe it? I can’t believe it!” fifty-nine times! My friend’s good-natured husband stood there with an indulgent smile, and occasionally looked around to give apologetic smiles to the pedestrians who stared at our display of emotions. The girls took pictures.
In the evening, Sean and I strolled down Via Del Cerechi and ended up at the Colosseum. The sun was setting, the last rays fell on the anicient amphitheater and illuminated the ruin to its full glory. Although part of the history of the Colosseum is full of blood and human suffering yet the magnificence of it does evoke respect and awe for the strength and power of the ancient Romans.
We decided to explore the night life of Trastevere. Like a typical man, Sean claimed he knew a short cut from the Colosseum to Trastevere, but that involved climbing the thousand (exaggerating) steps of The Capitoline hill. Once we were up there, he realized there was no short cut, we needed to go back down and go the usual way. I had already climbed 342 steps in the morning to reach the cupola, I threw that fact in his face and demanded a double gelato right away as a reward for huffing and puffing up more steps to satisfy male vanity of not asking for directions.
Trastevere didn’t disappoint. After a delicious meal of spaghetti with tomato sauce, olives, capers, tuna and anchovies, we headed towards the Piazza of Santa Maria. Musicians and artists were getting ready to entertain tourists and diners at the open air pizzerias, restaurants and cafes. Sean’s colleague had shown him the best little dessert place, Churi Churi, to get cannolis (Sean’s favorite) and my gelato. Sean got a canoli with plain sweet ricotta cheese, I got a gelato called canolini with fresh cream on top. It was frozen sweet ricotta cheese with crushed canoli mixed in. It was one of the most delicious flavors I have ever tasted! I immediately planned to get the same the next evening, my last in Rome.
After roaming endlessly in the narrow alleyways and neighborhoods of Trastevere, enjoying the funky, artsy shops, innumerable open air restaurants, dessert and gelato places, artists, entertainers, dancers, musicians, we headed back to our dear old Hotel Arenula. While crossing Tiber, I caught this in my camera.
Back at the hotel, while I was looking through the pictures in my camera, Sean asked if I wanted to skype with the children.
Children??? What children???
Day six will be one of losing myself with Sean in the city of Rome, and maybe Castel Sant’ Angelo, if I can convince my husband!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.