Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Joanne's in town part due

Ciao. At noon yesterday I met Joanne on the bridge that crosses the Tiber at the Castel St. Angelo. The bridge has all these statues on it and is very picturesque. We walked over to the area of the Spanish Steps for some window shopping, real shopping and a nice lunch. Then we went to Trevi Fountain so she could throw her coin in, and over to the Pantheon (2) (3) where we stopped in a cafe for a drink and while we were there, it became very very gray in the sky and all of a sudden it was raining. Again!!! But we (along with just about everyone else in the Piazza Rotunda) ran for shelter in the Pantheon, which for me was great because I had always wanted to be in the Pantheon when it was raining. We waited out the rain for awhile under the porch of the temple, but we were getting impatient and when the guy came selling umbrellas for 5 euro, we bought two even though we each had one in our rooms. Nonetheless, we started up again, going to the church of St. Ignatius which is just gorgeous inside and has a tromple l'oueil dome in it, and stopping for gelato at Giolitti's, making our way to Piazza Navona (2) and then sitting on a bench to decide where to have dinner. Around gelato time I wasn't feeling so good and could barely finish my cone (!), which should have been a sign, but I tried to ignore it so we went to dinner at what is reported to be the 'best pizzeria' in all of Rome - Da Baffetto. It was very local, very Italian, and also very hot and stuffy because of the pizza ovens and lack of air conditioning, and I basically became quite nauseous and dizzy and obviously have caught the Centro sickness. Fortunately Joanne was heading to Florence Tuesday morning, so an early night wasn't such a bad thing, but I spent much of Monday night/Tuesday morning in the bathroom. I missed our visit to the ports at Ostia, but I guess I didn't miss that much, considering. I spent the day in my room, in my pajamas, drinking water and reading/writing/napping. At 5 we had a guest speaker here at the Centro who did a very cool technology demonstration on Virtual Reality Rome, and then we had a mini-reception out in the garden. Now it's time to head up for dinner at the Academy and I'm feeling a bit better so I guess I'll get going. It's crazy that I only have a few days left in Rome and still there is so much I wanted to do that I didn't get to, museums I didn't make it to, restaurants I didn't get to eat at, etc. Oh well, like they say, 'Roma, una vita non basta!' (one lifetime isn't enough!) I guess I'll just have to come back!!! Buona sera!

Monday, July 26, 2004

Joanne's in town

So I left to meet Joanne at her hotel which is near the Vatican. But I don't know exactly where, and the area isn't on any of my maps. So I figure I'll get a taxi and so I walk to where I think the taxi stand is but I must have gotten it wrong because I didn't see a taxi anywhere and just kept walking and found myself in front of a flower stand waiting to see if a taxi will come by and none do. Then I ask the flower stand guy, 'Where can I get a taxi?' and he kind of shakes his head and laughs. I'm obviously not in a taxi neighborhood. So he asks where I'm going and I show him the address and say 'It's near the Cipro metro station, at the Vatican.' He again kind of shakes his head and laughs...it seems there are no buses or metros or any way I can get over there from here. He grabs a map and his keys and starts walking to his car, motioning for me to follow him. I say, 'Oh, I couldn't.' He's insistent. I ask 'How much?' He laughs and says, 'No, no, no.' I keep thinking about the bus pass. The bus pass has a phone number on it and it's a hotline for 'if you are being forced into prostitution.' But it's light out, and I guess I could jump out of the car if he started getting weird on me so I go. And he was very kind and gave me his card and took me to the neighborhood of her hotel and I left 10 euros in his ashtray because he wouldn't take any money from me. Thank goodness for the kindness of strangers. So I walk the few blocks to her hotel and it seems there was a mixup with her car service and she's not there, but she did show up and we had some wine and then got a snack at a nearby restaurant and all was well. On Sunday we met at the Vatican at the obelisk in the center of St. Peter's Square. It was pouring rain. The roads were slick and everyone was soaked and it was all around gross outside. We could barely believe it, because we haven't had a drop of rain in five weeks, and then Joanne comes and it pours! The line for the museum had to be two miles long and we were just not into it since it would mean being in the rain. So we did the Basilica of St. Peter's (2) then waited out the rain in a nearby cafe. Around 1 we decided we had to try the museum again. There was no line, and I was thinking, 'This is a bit odd.' Well, it's because on the last Sunday of every month the museum is free, but then they close early. Just our luck. We ended up having a siesta and then it cleared up so we walked from the Vatican to Trastevere and had a fabulous dinner and that was that. When I woke up this morning the sun was out again, and it's cool, lower 70's so I'm going to meet Joanne and we'll do the Rome thing. I think gelato is definitely in order. Ciao!

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Forum'ed out

We went to the forum today. Again. For the fourth or fifth time, I've lost count. It hasn't changed, just in case you were wondering. The problem being, our fearless leaders are insistent upon taking things chronologically, so much that today we started at one side of the forum to see one thing, walked all the way to the other side to see another thing, then walked all the way back to the first side to see another thing, and then back to the other side to go to a museum. And it's about 95 degrees outside. I'm all for historical accuracy, but that was a bit silly. And what were we looking at? Some arches. And a basilica. That's it. But the museum was very nice and has a lot of fabulous things in it, including the famous she-wolf statue that is the ultimate symbol for Rome, but this is the ORIGINAL one, in bronze, that dates back to the 600's B.C. And some other stuff too, but it's so hot I can't remember what it was and thankfully I took pictures of all the good stuff so I'll remember. I had lunch there too. A 'Pantheon panini.' How clever. It was a ham and cheese sandwich with some arugula. They love their arugula here. They translate it into English as 'rocket.' I remember the first time I saw that and thought 'What the @#$^@ is rocket???' But now I'm a wisened and worldly traveller and order things with rocket all the time. I think I might be babbling. Maybe I have heat stroke. Maybe I just need a glass of water. Or a nap. I remember a few weeks ago complaining about cold showers, but perhaps one is in order. I don't know. All I know is I must get myself together by 8 p.m. because my good friend Joanne is coming and I'm so excited and it's the weekend and the next thing I have to do for The Program isn't until Monday at 6 p.m. If we can survive the heat, she and I will be living 'la dolce vita' for the next 48 hours. Yay!

Friday, July 23, 2004

Four tombs and a circus

Buon Giorno. Today was a relatively relaxing day indeed. We left on the good, i.e. air conditioned, bus and went to the Via Appia, or Appian Way, to check out some tombs and stuff. The Romans buried their dead outside of the city walls for sanitation purposes which I think are obvious. So several tombs are found along the Appian Way. We got to walk on it a bit, which was strangely exciting, and we then visited the tomb of Maxentius which was built near his circus, or racetrack. He used this area just for the imperial family (late empire, right before Constantine). The track could hold about 10,000 people and he had his own private races there. You can still see the starting gates and the turning posts, although you'd have to know what they were in order to make them out. We also visited the tomb of Caecilia Metella, which is famous because it's so large and because it's for a woman. There's a picture of it in the Latin I textbook we use at EHS. Then we went into a private gated estate (love those special permissions...) where on their property they have three columbaria. A columbarium is a structure not unlike a shed but mostly underground, that has half-circle-shaped 'dove-holes' (columba is Latin for dove) in which they placed the urns that held the ashes of imperial freedmen and women (ex-slaves of the emperor and his family). We visited two of these on the same property, one of which held 500 urns and the other, 300. It was very dark and overall pretty creepy but also kind of cool in that macabre way. Plus I had my handy-dandy flashlights! And that was all that was scheduled. I had lunch at that pizza place I've been frequenting, and then most of us hung around the Centro because it's so hot you can't get yourself to do anything else, even though you're in Rome and you feel guilty sitting around reading novels and watching Italian MTV and taking naps. Several people in our group have come down with a stomach bug that is particularly nasty, and so far I've been lucky. I feel great - a bit tired and hot and sweaty all the time, but thankfully not nauseous! I went out to dinner at a nice place around the block that used to be an inn where Garibaldi stayed (he was a revolutionary who had a large role in the independence of Italy and its unification as a country in the 1800's). It was mostly outside, but covered in ivy arbors, very pretty. The waiter loved me as usual - I think they just like to see a woman enjoying her food, and judging by the size of the women here, they don't! Did I mention the one size fits all clothing shop???? Give me a break! But I had a good dinner, and stopped for gelato on the way home and that was about it. Hope all is well in the U.S. Joanne K. comes tomorrow! Yay!

Thursday, July 22, 2004

A bath, anyone?

The Vaticans Museums were, of course, fabulous. We arrived at 9 and hit the classical highlights with our fearless leader Myles, his wife and Justin. Each has his/her own specialty so it was a good visit. Three of the galleries that are especially interesting to classics nerds were closed to the public and when we saw the signs, we were devastated. Until we got the special permission!!! I love when they do that! We got into the Gregorian Room which is a lot of original Greek and Roman sculpture, as well as the Bracchio wing where they keep my favorite statue, the Prima Porta Augustus (sorry, Mel), and the Etruscan Museum. Those galleries and some other highlights kept us busy until noon, at which point many of us went to the cafeteria and had some great cheap pizza which was shocking, because usually when they have a captive audience like that the food is expensive and icky. The leaders left as did many others, but then I went through some of the other galleries, and by 4:30 I had seen all of the parts of the museum that were open, which is quite the feat. And speaking of feet, mine hurt! I waited FOREVER for the right bus and then some gelato was in order so stopped before going home. We had 8:00 dinner at the Academy which is always fun because the wine is free and everyone gets a little bit rowdy, much to the Fellows' amusement. Which brings us to Wednesday. We started at the Baths of Caracalla which are HUGE and fabulous. One of my favorite things is Roman baths and bathing practices, and we could see the various rooms of these baths which were the biggest ever built in Rome. We then went to see the Aurelian Wall (2) and the wall museum (kinda boring, like it sounds) and we got a true half day. A bunch of us got some pizza at the place down the street from the Centro - I got zucchini flower pizza and it was really good. We ate in the garden. It is getting hotter, finally. We were very lucky up until now and now we are paying the price. I don't know if it's the heat or the non-stop schedule, but after I finished my lunch yesterday I took a nap and didn't wake up until 6 p.m.! Dinner was okay...it hasn't been a fabulous food week. Today we did the Baths of Diocletian (2) (3). There are a lot of ruins of this huge bath complex, but most interesting is that the main part of the baths was taken over by Pope Gregory XIII who had Michelangelo turn it into a church, and that was the last thing he ever designed because he died before it was built. In the floor is a meridian line that follows the path of the sun...I can't explain it but it was really cool. The sun pokes through a tiny hole in the papal seal that's near the ceiling. It is somehow a clock and a calendar and also tells the path of some stars. I told Chris that now we have to come back so he can see it. We also went to the bath museum which is basically an epigraphy museum (lots of Latin inscriptions). It was a half day again, and we were near the oldest wine shop in Rome so I went to get some wine to ship home and then had lunch at their wine bar. It was a delicious lunch - many Romans have gnocchi on Thursday, so I had that, followed by grilled bread topped with ham and buffalo mozzarella and arugula, then for dessert, some espresso and millefoglie (sp?) which was thin disc-shaped cookies that tasted like Pepperidge Farm Milanos only better, layered with real whipped cream and wild berry puree. It was a huge and decadent lunch but I really enjoyed it. Besides, we had rabbit for dinner tonight at the Centro and let's just say, I tried it, but I was glad I had that huge and decadent lunch. I think it will be another early night because I am somehow still tired... Arrivaderci!

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

The Weekend

Hi everyone. I had an excellent weekend and now today it's back to The Program. On Saturday morning we went to the Palazzo Altemps, a museum of Roman sculpture that opened only a few years ago in an old Italian palace near the Piazza Navona. It was a great small museum and I enjoyed it. Then we had a visiting scholar talk about the Pantheon at the Pantheon, which is probably my favorite Roman building. Afterwards, we walked around Rome looking at some late 2nd century stuff (we're attempting to do Rome chronologically). So we atopped at the Hadrianeum and the column of Marcus Aurelius, and stuff like that. Saturday night we were supposed to go to the Capitoline Museum at 7 but several people in our group, including Myles, were late, and they wouldn't sell us ticets after 7. So Myles felt really bad and offered to take us all out to gelato. We went to Giolitti's, all 26 of us. It was pretty funny...they didn't know what to do when they saw us all coming in. 12 of us had made dinner reservations at a place near Campo di Fiori, so we went there around 8:30. No menu...they just ask you, 'Red or white?' and feed you a five-course dinner. We all had a great time and the food was very good. When we left, the chef came out and gave us all the 'kiss-kiss' one on each cheek. Friends of ours (Frank and Norma) are in town on their honeymoon and they had called to see if we could get together on Sunday, so I met them at the Colosseum at 1 and spent the day as tour guide. We did tourist Rome - great lunch at Abruzzo, the Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, Pantheon, Corso, gelato at Giolitti's, Piazza Navona, dinner in the Jewish Ghetto (the best place for typical Roman food), and then Campo di Fiori. I threw in a few churches as well. I think I may have tired them out, but that they really enjoyed their day, especially just being able to follow someone around who knows where they're going. It was great to see them! Yesterday I went with Charlotte to have a girly day. We got pedicures at the Hotel Russie (very posh...) and walked around the Spanish Steps area and had a delightful lunch. After we got home we actually had time for a siesta before our 6 p.m. lecture. As for today, well, nothing excites a bunch of Classicists more than a good museum and today we're going to the mother of all museums, the Vatican Museum. We are only scheduled there until 12, but of course we're all planning on making a day of it. I got my good walking shoes on! Ciao for now!

Friday, July 16, 2004

Ostia Antica is really cool.

Hi again. It's 6:30 p.m. and we all just got back from our field trip to Ostia Antica. This is the city that was built around the mouth of the Tiber River ('os' is Latin for mouth) and Ostia served as a port city for Rome. It was a really short bus trip, and is actually quite easy to get to when you're taking public transportation. If you go to Rome, you should go to Ostia Antica! It is absolutely fabulous, much like Pompeii. Actually it's quite similar to Pompeii, except, because it had a much longer life (it was still inhabited into the 5th century A.D.) and because it wasn't 'frozen' in time like Pompeii, the ruins are more in ruins than Pompeii. However, there is a museum which houses a lot of statuary, and you can walk around the whole town, able to go in most of the buildings, but some you need special permission (which we had!!! yay!!!). There are remains of buildings such as thermae and balneae (public and private baths), popinae (fast food/bars), domus (private houses), templa (temples), a forum, insulae (apartment buildings), and an amphitheater. We went to all of these and several of them still had frescoes painted on the walls or on the ceilings, and also lots and lots of mosaic floors. In one of the public baths, you can go into the service area under the ground floor where you find the furnace that heated the water and the areas for slaves to do maintenance such as fuelling the fire and draining the pools. You could also see the tubes that brought the hot air/steam up into the walls to heat the walls and floor of the steam rooms and hot baths. We still aren't sure exactly how it all worked, but let's just say these guys were awesome at radiant heating! I walked around the palaestra of the baths as well, which is where people exercised, and the solarium. And of course, we saw the 20-seater latrine, with the holes in the walls where hooks would hang for the 'sponges on sticks' which they used because they didn't have toilet paper. Don't worry...I got a photo!!! I like baths, so this was the highlight of my day. Another bath had a huge mosaic of Neptune on the floor which we saw from the second floor of an apartment building. And it's practically impossible to be on a second floor in any Roman ruins because they just don't exist anymore in most places, they are the first things to collapse. We had a great tour guide whose name was Joanne Sporza who is at Hunter College, NY and has spent the last 15 years studying Ostia. She directed us to a website: www.ostia-antica.org that she says is fabulous. I haven't had a chance to look yet, but soon will and now you can too if you are interested. We even saw a Mithraeum (which I have never seen before). Mithraism was a mystery cult that actually gave Christianity a run for its money in ancient times; they were 'competitor' religions. The Mithraea are out-of-the-way, cave or grotto-like shrines to the god Mithras. Most of these shrines had an altar and a statue of Mithras with his knee on a bull, holding the bull's head and preparing to sacrifice it by cutting its throat. Unfortunately we don't know much about Mithraism because it's a mystery cult, and its members (all men) were initiated in and sworn to secrecy, and we have no literary evidence about the cult worship other than these shrines and statues. It was a great day and because it's fish for dinner which I don't really like even if I did have that awesome fish soup last week, but I digress...a few of us are going to a nice restaurant in the neighborhood, I forget its real name, but it's Italian for 'hearth' so we all call it 'The Hearth,' because we are worthless Americans ha ha. There is also some talk about going to the movies, but it's been a long day so probably not likely...

Thursday, July 15, 2004

What a week!

To start, I apologize for not keeping up. The week has been pretty 'pazza' - that's 'crazy.' But it started off quite well, as I went to Assisi on Sunday and returned Monday. I managed to 1. take the right bus to the train station, 2. buy the correct tickets back and forth to Assisi, 3. find the right track, thus getting on the right train, and 4. get off the right stop and switch to the correct train to Assisi. All by myself. I know this sounds silly, but I was quite proud of myself, and felt like an accomplished and wordly traveller! Sr. Carol (a Franciscan sister who worked at my elementary/junior high school and who I had for Confirmation classes) met me at the train station in Assisi and brought me UP hill (as if you had any doubts...) to the town. Their guest house is attached to the convent, and is on one of the major streets that lead UP hill from the Basilica of St. Francis. When I arrived, I was brought into the dining room and Sr. Carol and I were served a delicious lunch by another sister. It was just the two of us, and I wasn't expecting lunch, so it was a nice surprise. They took me to my room which was MUCH nicer than the Centro, because it was only 24 euro (like 30 bucks) first of all, and I had two beds but no roommate, a wardrobe, a desk, a nightstand, a remote-control ceiling fan that was almost as good as air conditioning, AND...MY VERY OWN BATHROOM WITH SHOWER AND HOT WATER. FABULOUS!!! Then Sr. Carol brought me on a tour of the town, starting with the Roman sites (which included a very cool little forum with museum attached that I went into later that night) and then with several of the churches. The churches are amazing, especially St. Claire's where the crucifix that 'talked' to St. Francis is, and the http://www.assisionline.com/assisi__162.html
which houses his tomb as well as lots and lots of frescoes by Giotto (famous artist...), Cimabue (another one...) and others. Simply gorgeous. Sister was a great tour guide, and I thought she should do that on the side, but she assures me she is very busy with her work! We also met another American girl who was travelling alone and she joined us on our tour of the Basilica, plus I took her with me into the Roman Forum and the two of us met up for dinner later that night. On Sunday, after 7:15 (!) Mass and breakfast with Sr. Carol, I walked around town. I started at 8:15 and the city was asleep...it was quiet, there was no one on the streets, no tours, no open shops, and there was that dewy haze that mountains get. It was soooo nice. By 9:45, when I finished my walk, it was an entirely different place, but it was great to see the town come to life with the shopkeepers sweeping and setting up, the buses coming up the hill, the tourists in their groups, etc. Sr. Carol brought me and Jennifer (the other American girl) to the bus stop that goes to the train station. Our trains were leaving around the same time, so that was nice. We said our good-byes and thank you's, and by 3, I was back at the Centro. The rest of the week was much less pleasant, however. Tuesday we had the obligatory visit to the Colosseum, but it included a great lecture by Kathryn Welch who just finished a book on the building AND knows how to give a good lecture. Then we got special permission to go inside a building owned by the Knights of Rhodes which used to be the Knights of Malta, or perhaps it's the other way around...either way, we got some great views of the Imperial Fora from up there. I think we did something else then, but I can't remember nor can anyone else in the computer room. But I DO know that we only had a half-day schedule, so four of us went to a nice leisurely lunch and Charlotte who is so very sweet, treated us girls! That was very nice of her and we had a great time. She decided to go home after, but Katy, Carrie and I then went shopping because the sales are on. It was a long but fun day. We had a lecture at 6:30, and the three of us arrived at the Academy at like 6:29. Dinner at the Academy because it was Tuesday, but no celebrity sightings this week. Wednesday was hell day. It was slated as a half day, and just to give you an idea, we left at 8:15 and didn't return until 6 p.m. I'm no Nobel Prize Winner, but that's not a half day.... First stop was the Domus Aurea (2), or Nero's Golden House which is AMAZING and only newly opened (I think '99 or 2000). We FLEW through that in about 40 minutes and then we were an hour ahead of schedule. So rather than go back in and explore, or perhaps go to the bathroom, or have a coffee break, or relax in any way, shape, or form, we are led through a pointless 45-minute walk through the Subura, which in ancient times was the 'red-light district' (any students reading this...it's the neighborhood where Eucleides gets mugged...). But now it's just a neighborhood, with souvenir shops and bars and whatever. It was like some sort of 'filler!' But our leader finally stops, at 10:45 and says, 'Okay, now you can have a break but you need to be at the Palatine Museum for our appointment at 11.' But it takes about 20 minutes to get from where he stopped the walk to the museum, and of course, it's on the Palatine HILL. So much for the break. Up we go and we have a tour of the Imperial Palaces there (dating to the Flavians) which were HUGE and amazing...we get the word 'palace' from 'Palatine.' Finally, a lunch break (I had pizza) then back to the Imperial Fora. We meet at Trajan's column which is truly a fascinating monument, a huge sculpted column that tells the story of Trajan's military conquests. But out escort never showed to let us into Trajan's forum, but we waited...for an hour. Then we gave up and went into Trajan's Markets which was like the first mall, cool, but only for a short time. Meanwhile, I had collected money from everyone so I could go pick up tickets to the opera at the Baths of Caracalla (2), and the ticket office closed at 5 and it was right near all of this stuff so it was the perfect day to go, but we didn't get out of the markets until 5:30. Half day, right. We were a disgruntled group, but we had a birthday in the house so we got a bit rowdy at dinner, and rowdier when we went out after dinner, to a wine bar in the Campo di Fiori where glasses of wine start at 1.30 euro. It was fun. This morning was not necessarily so fun, but we survived our trip to Tivoli where we visited Hadrian's Villa and the Villa D'Este. I believe I have links to both of those on my webpage, so if you're interested, you can find out more. I will say that the Villa D'Este is simply amazing...it's known for its gardens, but more so, for its fountains. Incredible. So now we're up to date. We go on another all-day trip tomorrow, to Ostia Antica, which is Ancient Ostia, the sea port of Rome which sits at the mouth of the Tiber. Thanks for all the comments and emails - I am starting to be a bit homesick and it's nice to get word from home.

Saturday, July 10, 2004

I'm on vacation!

Buon giorno. I talked to my sister yesterday and said I was on vacation this weekend, through Monday. She said, 'You ARE on vacation...your whole summer is a vacation!' I wonder if she's been reading my blog... So I'll start with Thursday, our all-day field trip to Terracina and Sperlonga. These are both coastal towns so we were near the beach. Terracina's claim to fame is the Temple of Jupiter Anxur, a huge, arched structure built into the top of a cliff. We explored the town, the temple, and a small museum. The views from the Temple were incredible and the whole thing just makes you wonder how they built this stuff! 'Sperlonga' is a corruption of the word 'spelunca' which is Latin for 'cave.' This is where Emperor Tiberius (perhaps other earlier emperors as well) had a beach villa and a grotto, or cave, where he had a large fishpond and a little dining platform in the middle of the pond. There are several literary sources for this, including Tacitus and Suetonius, and one of them tells the story of Tiberius almost dying when part of the cave collapsed during a dinner party. But the really cool thing is the statue groups they found inside the cave, five at least, and all of them tell different parts of the Odyssey. They were in the Sperlonga museum which we went to...just huge, marvelous, beautiful statues. That was Thursday. Friday was the beginning of my four-day long weekend. Most of the others are away, some to Venice, some to Pompeii, one group even went to Tunis to see the remains of Carthage (Nortern Africa for those of you who are geographically impaired). I decided to stay here and do some solo exploration. So yesterday I started with a trip to Feltrinelli's, a store not unlike Borders, where I found a guidebook on the Slow Food Movement, an Italian phenomenon that is the complete antithesis to fast food. It involves cooking and serving food only in traditional ways, with traditional ingredients, etc. The book is in Italian, and is very expensive, so I stood there and jotted down some names of Slow Food restaurants in Rome. They are known by their snail symbol. A few more stops (bought some linens for my newly painted dining room, had a couple of caffe freddos) and then I wandered the Jewish Ghetto in search of a rumoured wine shop where the owner, 'Mamma' opens only for lunch and serves you what she's having as long as you buy some wine. I found it. It was closed. But all the better, because as I stood, frustrated, in a nearby piazza, I saw people sitting in front of Da Giggetto, perhaps the best restaurant in the area. 'Surely they're not open for lunch' I thought. But they were. And I had a fabulous meal. The waiter was a distinguished gentleman dressed in dress pants, shirt, jacket and tie, and when he saw me writing in my journal, he grabbed the pen from my hands and signed the book as if he were a celebrity. After my meal, I decided he is. I ordered the traditional Roman appetizer, fried zucchini flowers stuffed with mozzarella cheese and anchovies. 'To follow?' my waiter asks. "I'm not sure yet," I reply. He says, 'You'll have the fish soup. Freshest fish, delivered at 10 o'clock this morning, from Sicily.' Okay then, fish soup it is. Now you have to know something about me at this point. I don't like fish. Shellfish, yes. Fish fish, no. So I find myself eating these wonderful fried zucchini flowers (picked just for me, he says) that are stuffed with anchovies, to be followed by fish soup. When I finish the appetizer, I start to regret letting him bully me into fish. When will I learn???? The 'fish soup' is an oval platter piled high with shrimp, mussels, clams, calamari, a small fish steak and two whole fish (without heads), in a light tomato broth with slices of garlic and grilled bread. I dig in and when I look up again, my fingers are wrinkly from being in the broth, and the side plate is a pile of shells, bones and skin. The tablecloth is splattered with the sauce. I barely remember the waiter pouring me a glass of sparkling wine, winking at me, saying, 'Better for the fish.' He didn't charge me for the wine, and he kissed me on both cheeks when I left. I wandered the Pantheon area for awhile, church-hopping, shopping, people-watching, etc. Around 7, I decide it's Slow Food time (yes, I'm hungry again, go figure). One of the restaurants in the guide was also in my 'Top 10 Rome' book, so I figured I'd head there. I find it, after a bit of a detour, and it's a wine shop with about 10 tables. All the people in there are Italian men, smoking, playing cards, drinking wine out of the bottle. I hesitate but go in anyway, I pick out a bottle and the cashier/bartender/waitress takes it from me, opens it and hands it back to me, with a glass. The sign says, 'Tipico cucina Romana.' Yum. I ask for a menu. 'No, no food,' is the reply. What??? It in the Slow Food guidebook, it's in my Top 10 book under 'Top 10 Places to Eat near the Pantheon.' Ah Roma, you're killing me! I sit, drink, read a bit, listen and watch the men play cards, and one of them looks at me, calls me bellissima and brings me a basket full of chocolate-chip/almond biscotti. They close up so I re-cork my bottle and head back into the heat of the evening. By now I've given up on slow food, so I find the nearest ristorante and sit, not caring that no one else is in the whole place. I have four or five waiters serving me, and I have a wonderful little Italian dinner. Tomorrow is another day...

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Day Two, Age of Augustus

Buonna sera. It's after 9 p.m. here and still about 90 degrees. I miss air conditioning, but I always have cold showers (glass half full???)! Today was part two of Augustus, but I found it to be a bit disappointing. The morning was the best, however, as I found myself standing inside of Augustus' mausoleum, in the inner tomb where HE was buried. Like, wow. That was huge for me. But the day went downhill from there. The Ara Pacis is, STILL, closed (Melissa!) for renovation and then we walked (and walked) through the Campus Martius down to the Largo Argentina to the Theater/Cryptus of Balbus which was kind of a non-site, to me anyway. I never really heard of it before, and it seems like I wasn't missing much... That, of course, ran late and we ended up with a 20-minute lunch (which, luckily, I'm used to, go EHS!!!) before meeting again at one of the great National Museums of Italy, the Palazzo Massimo. BUT, we met a lecturer and were there 1 1/2 hours listening to him talk while only looking at two sculptures. I say, lecture to me in a classroom; if you take me to a museum, let me look around!!! I have been to this museum before, though, so it wasn't a total loss. Two of my personal Top 10 favorite things in all of Rome are there, and I got to see them both today: the frescoes from the dining room of the House of Livia (a copy of which hang in my bedroom at home...) and the statue of Augustus as Pontifex Maximus (high priest). Also lots of other great sculptures, frescoes, and oh...the mosaics. You can hardly believe how intricate and detailed they are! I stopped at the grocery store on the way back, got some snacks, cheese, and fruit, and then back to the Centro for another great dinner: macaroni and cheese, but with gorgonzola instead of cheddar, chicken breasts in a light orange glaze, and profiteroles (basically cream puffs) filled with chocolate custard. Tomorrow we head to Terracina and Sperlonga, with a stop at the beach, and then our long-awaited and much-deserved long weekend. Many of the 'gang' have visitors here or are headed to Pompeii, but since I'm going there in Part II of the Fulbright, I have decided to stay around Rome until Sunday. At that point, I'm headed to Assisi via a Eurostar train to visit one of the sisters connected to my Catholic school upbringing. Her name is Sr. Carol Woods and she is in Assisi for the year, so I'm looking forward to a wonderful tour of the town of Saint Francis and St. Claire. I'll be staying overnight at the convent's inn (only 28 euro with breakfast!). It will be a beautiful as well as peaceful retreat. But I'll be bloggin on before that...Ciao!

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Augustus Day, YAY

Hello all. Between the walking, the heat, the cold water showers and the wine, I may be a bit delirious but I will try my best. First, I forgot to mention yesterday that I was in a bus accident; that is, the bus I was riding on got into an accident. It's no wonder that 1/2 of all cars in Rome only have one side-view mirror. So the authorities had to be called which means I ended up having to walk up the Janiculum Hill (see the day I was lost) which I will hereby refer to as The Mountain I Live On. Anyway, that was exciting. Then last night I went out to dinner with the older gentleman teacher who also loves food, Don. We ended up meeting a bunch of Latin teachers who are doing a different tour, and having a fabulous Roman dinner. I had oriechette con fiori di zucchini e mailino con patate arrosto. It was quite good and worth the extra walking! Today was Augustus Day. We left the Centro at 8:15, and walked to the Palatine to visit the houses of Augustus and Livia. All I can say is wow, even though I'd probably been there before, since I was Livia in a previous life. But that's neither here nor there... The frescoes were amazing and I was breathless looking at them. Next to the Palatine Museum to see the sculptures found on the Palatine, and a tour of the Forum of Julius Caesar and Forum of Augustus. I have not been inside these Fora, and made sure to get my picture taken on the Temple of Mars Ultor, which Augustus dedicated to J.C. Again, breath-taking. We walked some more to the Theater of Marcellus and through the Portica Octaviae, and all in all we walked from 8:15 until about 4:30. Can anyone say chafing? I hate to be crude, but goodness!!!! However, we did return in time to shower and change for our night at the Academy. We had a lecture, open to all people visiting the Academy, on the history of the Academy. It was a slide show and it was fun to see the pictures of the Summer School participants from 1923!!! Then we picked figs and apricots in the Academy garden until dinner. And...are you ready...I had dinner with Tony Bennett!!! Well, I didn't actually sit at the table with him, but he was at one of the tables, as I was (there were about 8 tables). We ate parmesan risotto, pork filets and potatos, and chocolate/vanilla marble cake, and afterwards, I decided to be a 'typical American' and ask for his autograph, which he very graciously gave me, but rest assured I waited until others (including our leader Myles and his wife) did the same. So, that was my adventure for today. It wasn't Brad Pitt or George Clooney, but, still! Ciao for now!

Monday, July 05, 2004

Caesar Day

The BBQ was a terrific hit and we even made the neighbors mad at us, although we did follow 'quiet hours' which start at 10 p.m. They even called Franco and he came to give us 'the look,' but to no avail. We couldn't find charcoal so we threatened to burn our handouts (we get about 6 pages per day), but then found the 'wood' pile. Luckily Charlie was an Eagle scout! So we grilled hot dogs, hamburgers and veggie burgers for the vegetarians, had salad and fruit and lots of beer and wine. Myles even stopped by, much to our surprise! Charlotte, the true patriot in the group, printed off a copy of the Declaration of Independence and we recited it, one by one, according to our numbers (we have numbers so that we can count off whenever we go to or leave from a site - I'm 26, the last one). It was a hoot and a good time was had by all. Today was Caesar Day. We went to the Theater of Pompey, the remains actually, which are under the restaurant Ristorante da Pancrazio that I MUST eat at, but that's where JC was assassinated. Then to the Forum to check out the Curia Julia (Caesar's Senate House), the Basilica Julia (Caesar's shopping mall), and the Temple to Divus Julius (a cult that started to honor him as a god after his assassination). The original altar is there and is constantly covered in flowers, like Elvis' grave ha ha. We also got a guided tour of an on-going excavation of a house in the Forum. The very old and wealthy aristocratic families had houses there dating back to the 7th century BC. The hoi polloi were watching us enviously as we walked around areas not open to the public, including the courtyard of the House of the Vestal Virgins. It was fun indeed. Unfortunately we do have an MM lecture at 6, then I think we're having turkey for dinner. Hope all is well there. Ciao!

Sunday, July 04, 2004

Okay, I'm a bit back-blogged...

Today is the 4th of July but I'm going to start with Friday the 2nd, or Fulbright Day. The morning program was quite disappointing. It was at a fancy hotel and was a program for three different groups: 1) the Classics seminar people (us), 2) Italians who are going to study and/or teach in America and 3) the Contemporary Italian seminar people (a new program for American Italian teachers). I'd say we were an afterthought, because it was really for the contemporary seminar folk. However, we did get these cool little briefcases with our names on them, and some neat Fulbright gear (a pin, a pen, paper, lots of info) and our CHECKS (we had to pay for our travel and they reimbursed us in one lump sum of 1600 euro, about $1900). Then they had a bunch of speeches, in Italian, which I understood about 1/5 of. Then a coffee break with good Italian pastries. Well, during the break they had a bus for the Contemporary people so they could all go to the bank (it had to be a specific bank) and cash their checks, but there was no room for us. This was a bit annoying, and although they had lunch at 1:30, I decided to get myself to the bank because if not then, when? We all know there's no time in The Program. So I was walking around Rome with all that money in my purse, took myself out to a nice lunch and gelato near the Pantheon, and then came home and got ready for dinner. Dinner was an entirely different story. As I have said, it was at the Hotel Minerva, one of the swankiest hotels in Rome (it has 5 euro signs next to it in the guidebooks), which is right behind the Pantheon. The lobby was simply gorgeous, with a huge statue of Minerva and beautiful mosaic floors. The dinner was on the rooftop garden, with an amazing view of the Pantheon, as well as all of Rome and the sunset. Cocktail hour started at eight, with free-flowing prosecco (ITalian version of champagne) and hors d'oeuvres. Then we sat at our dinner places and there was a souvenir menu for all of us. We had a five-course meal and the waiters were really on top of things, the minute you emptied your glass, it was re-filled! We were there until almost midnight when they brought us home on a bus just for us Classics people. Fabulous! Yesterday we had an all-day field trip. We started at the Ponte di Nona, an ancient bridge, and we had to jump a fence to get in to see it better. That was fun (can you hear the sarcasm?) Then we went to the ancient site of Praeneste (modern-day Palestrina), a terraced town built into a hill starting around the 7th century BC. It had a spectacular shrine to the goddess Fortuna which has since been made into a museum, which was found by accident when a bomb hit the area in 1944. One amazing find was the Nile Mosaic, which was simply gorgeous. We all laid down on our backs on the floor of the museum to enjoy its beauty. It is one of the oldest large mosaics preserved from the ancient world, and it has marvelous scenes from Egypt, including several different animals from Egypt which are labelled in Greek letters. It was the most amazing mosaic I have ever seen, even better than the one of Alexander the Great that is in the national museum in Naples. The scenery from the museum/sanctuary was beautiful as well. We had lunch at a restaurant outside of town, and Myles and Justin even ate with us and ordered wine for everyone! It was a good time, and a nice bonding experience. We also went to a town called Gabii where the earliest known inscription in Italy was found, dating to 770 BC, but they think it's in Greek letters and no one is really sure what it says. But that brings up a whole other set of problems, like if it IS Greek, why was it found in Italy? Interestingly enough, the earliest Greek writing that they're a bit more sure of dates back to 725 BC and was also found in Italy. Makes you go hmmmmmm.... Maybe there's a dissertation lurking in there somewhere, just kidding!!! Then we ended the day at the Parco della Acquedotto, or Park of Aqueducts. This is an area just outside of the city where a lot of the aqueducts kind of met up to bring water into the city. We saw the above-ground section of the Aqua Claudia which is the one we were climbing in the other day (in the underground part). A bunch of us went to dinner in the neighborhood (I had pizza quattro formaggio that was yum!) and then into Rome to get good gelato at Giolitti's (they gave us bus passes for the month of July so the world is ours!!!). Today is the 4th and we have managed to organize an all-American BBQ here in the garden of the Centro. We even bought hamburgers and we are all quite excited (we haven't had beef since we got here!). Other than that, today I plan to do a lot of reading. This week's topic is Augustan Rome and that, as many of you know, is my favorite!!!
Happy 4th and ciao!!! Don't forget about me!!!

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Canada Day

One of the guys in The Program is Canadian and we have been singing 'O Canada' all day in that exhaustion-induced silliness that only a bunch of classicists can really aspire to. We also went to a place called Alba Fucens (pronounced Foo-kens) and there were a lot of jokes involving 'fucens' e.g. 'There's the Fucens Bar, the best Fucens bar in town!' but that was the end of the day and I'm not even at the beginning yet. We got on the good bus at 8:15 and left for Horace's Villa. That is an interesting site for several reasons, the main one being that they have no real proof that Horace (famous Roman poet who coined 'Carpe Diem') ever lived there. But they really want it to be true, and thus you have Horace's Villa. It sits on a high hill (more uphill walking, yay!) in the Sabine Hills and the view was incredible. One very unique thing there is the remains of a large oval sauna. Also the American Academy has been running the excavations there for the past 50 years or so so it's one of 'our' sites. Next we went to Vico Varo, which meant nothing to me until we got there and (surprise) they took us INTO the Aqua Claudia. Yes, I was walking IN an aqueduct that was built in 51 A.D. It pushed water over 90 kilometers to Rome (don't know the mileage...) It was very cool, although a strenous hike down into the aqueduct and, of course, back up. But inside you could see the water line and the calcification deposits of the water and the slice marks from where slaves used to have to cut the calcium deposits off. It was pretty awesome, and worth the very difficult hike. Kudos to Chris for making me bring a flashlight, by the way. It has come in handy on more than one occasion, but especially today! Ditto the first aid kit (we had one casualty on the hike...it wasn't me!) Next (you'd think that was an all-day journey itself, wouldn't you?), we went to Alba Fucens which I already mentioned. Alba Fucens was colonized by Rome in 303 B.C. as a 'typical' Roman town, so we learn a lot about Rome from the ruins that are in such places as this. They broke us into groups and gave us sections of the excavations to explore, interpret, and present to each other. We had 30 minutes to do so. It was interesting. I had no idea what one of my sections was, although I knew there was some kind of shrine involved (it was a cattle market with a shrine to Hercules), but I definitely did know the other one, which was a bath area, including the caldarium (hot room) with hypocause (furnace) system, tepidarium (warm room) and frididarium (cold room) built on an east/west axis to utilize the heat from the sun, and built out of brick which was their main 'waterproof' building material. Other things we saw explained by other groups included: shops, a bar, another bath area, the house of the head government official, a meat market, and I'm sure there's more, but we also hiked over to the amphitheater. We were about two hours from home at this point and it was 6:00 and our dinner time is 7:30 so Myles had to call Franco who was not pleased. But when we got home, they fed us and this was my first post-dinner stop. I could really use a shower now, since I am my usual sweaty dirty self after the strenuous day. Tomorrow will be very nice...it's Fulbright Day, and we Fulbrighters are being excused from The Program to attend a morning program at the Hotel Ergife including lunch, and at 8:00, dinner at the Hotel Minerva. Both, I understand, are rather swanky. Finally they realize who they're dealing with!!! I shouldn't have to walk anywhere tomorrow, and they're giving me all kinds of money! Hooray! Ciao!

6/30/04 (written a day late)

Another all day journey. Oh my aching feet. We marched the route in Rome that a triumphator takes, taking a few stops along the way including seeing ruins of a 3rd century BC temple under the church S. Nicole in Carcere. We also stopped at the Forum Boarium (a cattle market in ancient times) to see the temples of Hercules and Portunus. Then we went into the church S. Maria Comedin (you may know it from Roman Holiday...it's where the Mouth of Truth is) underneath which is the Ara Maxima, an altar where Hercules made a sacrifice. We then walked up the hill along the Circus Maximus toward a museum. But we had a two-hour lunch, so I tried to go to the post office to see if the card that makes my cell phone work was there, and it wasn't (long boring story) so that was an hour wasted, but I had some good pizza on my toward the Montemartini Museum, which was our next stop. The museum was originally a power plant, and they have placed lots of Roman statuary found in and around Rome in the 'machinery' setting, making it a very unique and enjoyable place to visit. I knew that the dinner at the Centro was not something I particularly enjoy, so I decided to splurge. I got dressed up and took myself out to dinner at a place near the Academy. I was there for some time, and the food was inspiring, so I asked for a pen and paper and wrote about it. It's below if you'd like to read it. Warning...it's pretty long.

Antico Arco, 30 Giugno 2004-06
I enter, wearing a light green silk skirt and tank top, black sandals and a small bag in which I carry only cash and credit cards and keys. ‘Tavolo per uno, per favore,’ I ask the woman who greets me wearing a chef jacket and bandana. ‘Just a minute, please,’ she says, letting me know that she knows that I’m an American. I am not deterred, however, and as I am led to my seat, a marroon velvet bench in a peach-colored, candle-lit room, I continue to speak Italian as the waiters, one by one, come to my table. I am given a menu and a wine list that is over 100 pages, and has its own index. I peruse the menu, make some quick decisions, none of them final, and choose a wine. ‘Can I help you, madame,’ – and I ask for a glass of Prosecco and a ‘bottiglia, per favore, Valpolicella Superiore, 2000.’ ‘Yes, one moment,’ is the reply and a darkly tanned waiter with long hair pulled into a long ponytail and startling blue eyes comes with a freshly corked bottle of Prosecco and a V-shaped crystal glass. He smiles at me, pours, and leaves. I have water (Acqua Panna Naturale) and a basket with four different breads and so begins my cena. Another waiter, cuter, with short dark hair and a goatee, approaches and speaks, quickly, in Italian. ‘Lentamente, per favore,’ I say, hoping for a slower version of his ‘waiter’ speech. He says, ‘I’m sorry, I thought you were Italian. You speak English?’ Disappointed, I reply, ‘Si,’ and he tells me he is delivering a fresh tomato gazpacho with a dollop of bufala ricotta cheese, my ‘taste’ to enjoy. The liquid is like biting into a fresh tomato, newly picked from an Italian garden, and the ricotta is smooth and ripe and tangy. I slurp it up using the flat spoon I have been given, and finish my prosecco. The head waiter returns and in English asks if I would like my wine opened now, and I say, ‘Si.’ He opens it, sniffs the cork, deems it worthy of serving, and pours a tiny bit into the large crystal glass he has placed above my knife. I smell earth, and something else that reminds me of the cherries I bought yesterday at the fruit stand on the street and devoured on the beach at Cosa. I pronounce it ‘Very nice,’ and he pours more into my glass. I have a few moments to realize the table, made of dark wood, has slits on each end through which the table runner ‘runs.’ ‘I have to remember this,’ I think, and the head waiter brings my first course. It looks like a rose on my plate, with the shadings that a rose would have, darker on the edges, lighter in the middle, but a rose created out of puff pastry and not red, but shades of beige turning to dark brown. It is wonderfully crispy on the edges, and filled with melted bufala mozzarella, sundried cherry tomatoes, and a light under-coating of what I think is paremesan mixed with basil, faintly dusting the bottom of the cheese. It is garnished with, what I’m told is, ‘a salad typical to Italy.’ I don’t recognize the greens, but they are in three ‘clumps’ with a few ripe-red tomatoes, drizzled just a bit with olive oil and salted. I clear the plate, eager for the next course, realizing I haven’t even touched my wine, so intent was I on the food. I am given a brief rest before receiving my pasta, spaghetti in ‘cacio e pepe’ (cheese and pepper) sauce. The cheese is thick, pungent, and salty, and the back taste of pepper adds a wonderful zest. The pasta, I realize, is topped with the traditional Roman fried zucchini flowers. I taste one for the first time...it reminds me of some fried spinach I had once in New Orleans – light, airy, flavorful, melting on my tongue and teasing me because there are only three of them. This is all I have ordered, and I am disappointed; it’s not enough. I ask for the menu and the head waiter brings me the dessert menu. I pretend to read it, noting the molten chocolate souffle cake, but ask for ‘the other’ menu. He seems surprised, even bordering on shocked, yet pleased. Suddenly he pours my wine for me (for the first time, I note), dims the lights, and settles in as I have already done. I order grilled duck breast in a raspberry glaze and wait anxiously, impatiently, for its arrival. I comes coated, drenched in the ripe, rich, raspberry sauce, the perfectly cooked duck breast, medium rare yet with that crispy grilled duck-fat edge that I so enjoy. The contorno is a sort of zucchini egg-roll that I can do without, but the plate is also garnished with three single raspberries resting atop a leaf each of Italian parsley. I stop, for a moment, to wonder if this is what Heaven is, as I listen to the strange techno-jazz music coming from the speaker to my right. The waiter who thought I was Italian sees me writing and boosts the lights. He looks at me, beseeching me to compliment the food, which of course, I praise with gusto. At this moment there are two bites of duck remaining and I am hesitant to eat them, knowing they are my last. The owner (?) comes in to see how my dinner has been. I praise it further and he points to the room around me, empty since a single older gentlemen left 45 minutes ago. He says, ‘It’s all yours, for about 10 more minutes,’ indicating that the Italian dinner hour is arriving soon. I must look worried, for he adds, ‘Take your time, madame, mangiata, enjoy...’ I relax, thinking, ‘They have underestimated me.’ I peruse the list of desserts and, since I seem to be indulging, choose the ‘molten chocolate souffle cake,’ which I had noted earlier. When I order, the waiter nods as if he knew that is what I was going to get. Then he pours me some more wine from the dwindling Valpolicella. Suddenly I am terrorized, briefly, by a thought: tonight I am undoing all the uphill walking I have been doing for almost two weeks! But the thought is brief, because I clearly don’t care so much, and so I return once again to the bliss that has been this evening’s meal. The room is now full and my peace has been infringed upon. I continue to sip the last of my wine and wait for ‘la dolce.’ It has arrived: a mound of chocolate, dusted with powdered sugar, seated within a diamond of chocolate sauce on a square plate. I take a forkful and the chocolate lava oozes out. Then I hear, ‘A little gift for you, madame’ from the waiter who thought I was Italian...two vanilla and two chocolate biscotti. I order a ‘digestiv’ from the owner, and think ‘God, I love it here.’