Wednesday, May 11 2011
location: Via del Governo Vecchio, Rome, Italy
After missing the opening hours at a museum that included Caravaggios, we decided to look for a place to eat lunch. After trying put some distance between ourselves and a megaphone-equipped one-man protest (unlike in the United States, protest is a common phenomenon on the streets of Rome), we found Piazza delle Coppelle, a sort of businessman-friendly cobblestone piazza whose outdoor market was just winding down. We sat at a table at Maccheroni, placed an order, and then watched as all the other customers were served before us (no matter how long after we'd arrived they'd come). This was clearly an good ole boys' restaurant, and the regulars had priority. Still, when it came out the pasta was good and so was the bread. Gretchen also got an order of spinach that we mixed in with our pasta (I had the pasta Arabbiata) to make it extra delicious. With the spotty low-interference nature of our waiter, it was clear that there was no hurry for us to leave our table. We ended up spending two hours there, eventually moving on to a course of espressos. By that time our waiter was hamming it up to the point where I thought we might get faster service should we come again.
The day's hunt for Caravaggios continued in the afternoon. We walked up to the Piazza del Popolo (the old north gate of Rome) and went into the Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo. There are a couple of priceless Caravaggios in there: the Crucifixion of St. Peter and the Conversion on the Way to Damascus (a painting that had awed me as a black and white reproduction in my mother's art history book, which I pored over now and then for most of my childhood). The paintings, despite their value, are not heavily guarded and not behind glass. There's a church employee standing there to make sure you don't take photographs, but that's about it. There's something powerful and timeless about Caravaggio's paintings that comes as a consequence of their absence of geometric depth, the precision of their composition, the unforgiving harshness of their illumination, and the grim hyperrealism in the details.
Other Caravaggios could potentially be seen at Galleria Borghese, a grand eclectic art museum situated in a park further to the north. One has to reserve two hour time slots at Galleria Borghese in advance, which we hadn't done. But Gretchen was hoping we could show up at 5pm (the next available two hour slot) and take advantage of a no-show (sort of like standby seating on an airplane). We walked all the way Galleria Borghese (which is nearly a mile beyond the Piazza del Popolo) and found there were no available time slots, so we had to content ourselves by looking at Caravaggios in books in the gift shop. As we did so, I could smell the stank of my feet, which was a little puzzling because I'd been wearing flip flops for days, which (one would imagine) would make conditions too ærobic for stank-forming micro-organisms. So once we left the gift shop and re-entered the park, I stopped at the first available fountain and washed my feet (a woman wearing flip flops saw me doing this and could soon be seen doing the same thing at my fountain's sister-fountain). Interestingly, I hadn't actually seen many people wearing flip flops in Rome; the few who were appeared to be foreigners. I don't know if Italians are adverse to cheap footwear (that's possible) or if they consider the weather still too wintry.
We ended up spending an hour or so stretched out in some scruffy grass in the park. I even briefly fell asleep.
Eventually we walked out of the park and then along the north wall of ancient Rome to the neighborhood having Ethiopian restaurants. After getting drinks in the sidewalk area of a café, we went to out for another Ethiopian meal. This time we dined at Asmara, and Gretchen was delighted by how sour their injera was.
On the walk home, we passed a number of interesting sights, including the McDonalds at Piazza della Repubblica. Gretchen had to duck into it for a moment to see what kind of tard would eat at a McDonalds in Rome. Then answer: young Romans.
We also tried to convert more dollars into euros, but the commission for doing so was so usurious that we decided against it.
A view out our apartment's peephole this morning.
Our waiter at Maccheroni.
The most disgusting water in all of Rome is holy water. Think of all the fingers that have been in that half litre of water! You really want to put that on your face?
The north gate of Rome, fancied up in the late 15th Century for the benefit of pilgrims from the north.
Me with my big beer before dinner tonight.
Gretchen before dinner tonight.
Gretchen ducks into the McDonalds at Piazza della Repubblica to see who eats there.
The obelisk-bearing elephant at Santa Maria sopra Minerva at night.
A streetside near our apartment at night.
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