Gretchen and I had the good fortune to travel to Rome at the end of November of this year. What an adventure we had. Rather than share with you about the fabulous food and the tribulations of travel, I'd rather share with you my impression of a city through the eyes of an artist and armchair historian. To be clear, we'd been to Europe some 31 years earlier and this was our first time back.
Instead of a hotel, we stayed at a religious guest house run by Polish sisters, the Sisters of St. Elizabeth. And, while we spoke no Italian or Polish and they spoke no English, we seemed, after fits and starts to communicate just fine. The accommodations were simple but more than adequate. And they had their own chapel with daily mass at 6:15am for the early risers.
Every day we donned our running shoes and headed out on the black cobblestone to explore a city with a history too rich to do it justice in a few paragraphs. For 3000 years from the Etruscans to the Romans to the Christian middle ages to WWII & Mussolini and on up to today, one can feel and touch history. Shockingly, there are no skyscrapers, no high rises in Rome. Most of the buildings are about four or five stories tall, nestled on narrow streets. The buildings of most prominence are not business or commerce, but churches and Roman ruins. It is extraordinary and to the credit of the Italian people that they have not turned Rome into New York or Chicago. The most important touch points, epochs of civilization at both on display and sooo accessible.
Though we were staying more on the northeast part of downtown, near the Basilica of St. Mary Major, we could walk to the Coliseum in 15 minutes, the Parthenon in 20 and St. Peter's (on the other side of the Tiber River) in 35 minutes. Managing the idea of stepping out into the street and hoping the traffic would stop and let us pass was unnerving at first, but after the first day, one got plunging out in front of darting Citroens, Smart Cars and Vespas with the best of them. That being said, I always kept a wary eye on the traffic and was ready to spring into action.
While, like any big city, there are scammers, beggars, tour guides, and restauranteers seeking ones euros, it was certainly not over the top or even overly annoying. Actually I found the hustlers rather easily avoided, they had something of a gracious resignation. That being said, I always, and I mean always feel somewhat guilty passing a beggar. It is good to have a coin or two to let go of.
Yet the glory of Rome is the sights and attractions. In a few days time we had visited, all on foot, the Coliseum, the Pantheon, the Forum, St. Peter's Basilica, The Vatican Museum, The Palatine Museum, The Borghese Museum, St. Mary Major, St. John Lateran and so many more. We saw works of Michelangelo, Raphael, Bernini, Caravaggio, DaVinci, and more. The richness and depth of the art and architecture is so grand, so rich, so ubiquitous, one is overwhelmed, humbled and inspired. As an artist, it makes me want to up my game to a much higher level. I want to deliver portraits that are better than they have ever been. I want to create works of lasting art.
Below is an image of the Pantheon, once a temple to the Roman gods, that has since become a beautiful church.