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Sunday, May 2, 2010

Confessions of a Europhile in Thirteen Volumes: VOLUME VI, Part A

It was March before we knew it, and the fragrance of spring flowers was in the air. What we smelled most keenly, though, was the alluring aroma of Easter Break. It smelled of slowly melting mozzarella cheese, or freshly made gnocchi, or stracciatella gelato (wait, that doesn't actually smell like anything). The point is, we were off to tour Italy and gain weight! The beautiful view of the Alps from my airplane window struck me as a good omen for what was to be an exhausting but memorable (and yummy) trip.

Roman Holiday

News flash: the Vatican is not quite as holy as it purports to be. Well, at least its architecture is still celestial. This trip marked my second visit to Rome, and Saint Peter's Basilica was as awe inducing as I remembered. For me, the impact of the cathedral lies in its shear size. When Jesus said to Peter, "upon this rock I will build my church," I wonder if he intended to make followers feel like liliputians. At 136 meters (over 400 feet) tall from the floor to the tip of its dome, Saint Peter's Basilica is imposing.

The Vatican Museums are equally impressive, not only for all that Raphael on display, but also for the frescos adorning the walls and ceilings of every room.

Already suffereing from a sore neck, you finally proceed into Michaelangelo's Sistine Chapel, which is easy to appreciate despite the massive crowd of people exclaiming things like, "Dude! The 'curtains' are, like, totally painted! They look so real, man! Awesome." Photography is prohibited inside the chapel, but I can assure you that the curtains do indeed look, like, totally real and that the effect of this truly is, like, so cool.

Gazing upon iconic art by the Ninja Turtles? Check. On to "gladiating" at the Colosseum. Films and popular culture in general have largely influenced our perception of what exactly took place in this ancient Roman amphitheater, but, for a westerner, being physically there evokes a sense of history ... and of cultural continuity. It's not too difficult to picture a college football game taking place at the Colosseum. After all, what could be more Roman than watching broad-shouldered men in skintight pants violently tackle each other to the ground? Actually, scratch that comparison; the ancient Romans didn't wear pants.

From ancient architecture to baroque. Stroll along Rome's Via dei Condotti, past Gucci, Valentino, Armani, and other boutiques at which you (that is to say I) can't afford to shop, and you'll be rewarded with a climb up the beautiful Spanish Steps (Piazza di Spagna). From atop the broad steps, couture shoppers look like busy ants haphazardly making away with pricy shoes and handbags.

Turn in the other direction, however, and harmony is thankfully restored.

More quiet charm can be found at the Piazza Navona, where artists set up shop, flanked by two gorgeous fountains: Neptune Fountain (Fontana del Nettuno) and Moor Fountain (Fontana del Moro). In the center of the city square lies the third, most famous fountain, Bernini's Fountain of the Four Rivers (Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi), which was unfortunately covered with scaffolding on the day I was there.

While on the subject of fountains, no trip to Rome is complete without tossing a coin into the majestic Trevi Fountain (Fontana di Trevi), which, according to legend, ensures you will one day return to The Eternal City. Here's hoping.

Rome was striking, as always, but Becca and I had only just begun to live "la dolce vita." More of our Italian adventures to come in Parts B, C, and D of the endless Confessions of a Europhile in Thirteen Volumes: VOLUME VI.

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