Tuesday, July 22, 2008

In the Footsteps of Aeneas

Today we had our first on site day. The leader of our visits is a fantastic, charismatic guy named Paul Gwynne. We met up at our breakfast cafe and got the tram to the Tiber River. The theme was the foundations of Rome, or the footsteps of Aeneas, the Trojan son of Venus and ancestor of Romulus, who escaped the war and arrived in Italy. We crossed over the Ponte (bridge) Fabricio to the Isola Tiberina, or Tiber Island. Tiber Island is shaped like a boat. It was originally the place where people could ford the river, but quickly became associated with healing because it was believed the god Asclepius, son of Apollo, wanted it so. It's actually quite a good idea, because it meant that the sick were pretty much quarantined to that place, and even today, it is where the largest hospital in Rome is. We read some passages from the Aeneid while on the bank of the river (in English ha ha), then continued our walk. We went to the Forum Boarium, which was the Roman cattle market, to see the remains of two temples there then made our way over the Tarpeian Rock and up to the Capitoline Hill. That's where we get "Capitol Hill" and was in Roman times and still is the "center" of the city. We entered the museum there which is the oldest museum in the world. The lower part of the museum has the remains of the Tabellarium which was, basically, Ancient Rome's public records building, and were given a few hours to explore the museum on our own. I took Kathy and another woman named Rowena up to the fourth floor to use the "good" bathrooms, get a snack at the Museum cafe, and have our panoramic view of Rome. My idea was to head to the top while it's still relatively cool, get refreshed, and then work our way down so the museum doesn't feel quite as overwhelming. Some of the more famous works in the museum are the bronze She-wolf with Romulus and Remus and Bernini's bust of Medusa, among many many other things. Another woman named Peg joined our little group at the museum shop and we decided a nice Roman leisurely lunch was in order (this shocks you, I'm sure). We found an outdoor cafe called Il Roma, that had lots of shade and a nice breeze. Our primi piatti (first course) consisted of: a variety of brushetta (some with chopped tomato, some with olive paste, some with anchovies), sliced braesole (dried beef) rolled around arugula and sprinkled with parmigiano cheese, and a small platter of grilled scamorza (like a smoky mozzarella) with sundried tomatoes. We followed that with a pasta course. I had cacio e pepe, which is a typical Roman pasta tossed in pecorino cheese and black pepper, and the others had spinach ravioli or grilled vegetables. We had to be back at the Bucco della Verita (Mouth of Truth) to resume our tour of Roman temples. We went into Santa Maria of Cosmedin for a quick talk about the mosaic floor and how it was made and utilized, and then to St. Nicola in Carcere. That was a really great one because it's basically a medieval church built over the foundations of three Roman temples. Of course we had special permission to go underneath and see the foundations which is a pretty cool thing. The day ended at 5 and we met our usual night revelers to walk through the Jewish Ghetto to get some gelato. We took a slow walk, stopping at some churches along the way, up to the Pantheon area where we sat in the piazza and had a few drinks and some pizza stuffed with ham and cheese. Our waiter, Leandro, was hysterical...when we asked for the check he said, "No...you have to hang out here with me!" When we threatened to steal the 1-liter beer mugs (yes, you're reading that correctly), he gave us the evil eye and said he was watching us and he was from Sicily...Palermo...if you know what I mean. Very fun time. We took a perilous cab ride with a crazy man named Paulo who was driving either on the tram tracks or on the wrong side of the road up to our street where we had a nightcap at a bar/snack shop that seemed very "local," then up to bed. Our nighttime gang is having a great time and as soon as we get to the picture part of the lab days, I'll post some of my photos. Hope all is well at home! Ciao, and happy birthday Kate!!!

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