Roman Forum 2006

Roman Forum 2006
Foro Romano, from the Palatine Hill - a favorite photo from one of my favorite cities

Friday, July 18, 2014

Bloggo Su e Giù VI - Ups and Downs of Dottore Gianni's Travels: Rome, Florence and Venice with Mom, Judy, and Aunt Roseann

From the roof of St Peter's - bella Roma! From my first trip there in 1996

Dottore Gianni is usually obsessed with chronology (as are all his other incarnations, myself included). However, in this series from the journals of his past international travel he is going to leap forward in time, abandoning, for a while at least, chronological order. Why? In Spring 1999 the good doctor took a sabbatical leave to Europe, where his mission was to explore at least 10 major theatrical centers, take many photos, and scribble down copious notes on each one.

And so he did! But to pore over all of the notebooks (5 at least) he filled while on that tour could take a very long time - and would anyone read them? A question to be asked! So he is going to skip ahead to 2001, when he, his mother (on her third trip to Europe now), his sister (on her second) and his dear Aunt Roseann (I think the first time in Europe for her, though I could be mistaken - I am often mistaken, though Dottore Gianni seldom is). He hopes to return to the several notebooks of that sabbatical at some point in the not too, too distant future.

Dottore Gianni will confess to the temporary skipping of  another trip, back to London and from there to Edinburgh in November 1999, to reconnoiter the first tour with students he would take to that city's great theatre festival - a rough job, as the saying goes, but someone has to do it! The reasons for the passing over of this trip is that, embarrassingly enough the good doctor cannot locate the notes he took while on it! IF he even took notes...but how could he not have?

Sidebar on diaries, journals and such: The good doctor should have thought of this at the beginning of this series, as it would have made a witty introduction, but his brain is filled with cobwebs these days and his memory (or wit) is not what it once was.  But it HAS come to his mind, so he intends to share belatedly two quotations re diaries, both from Oscar Wilde's masterpiece The Importance of Being Earnest.

In Act II Cecily has concocted a diary of imaginary events to date her love for Earnest/Algernon. When Algernon/Earnest tells her he wishes she'd let him read it. Cecily says that her diary "is simply a very young girl's record of her own thoughts, and consequently meant for publication."

And a bit later in Act II Gwendolyn, in an attempt to one-up her, tells Cecily: "I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train."

It strikes Dottore Gianni, and me as well, that these journals of his/my own thoughts on his travels, while never intended for publication, are now being this blog! Also, he is/I am reminded that I really should take these journals on my adventures, because, like Gwendolyn, I too "should always have something sensational to read in the train!"

And that's the end of the first sidebar - more will come, as they always do...silly or not, and whether you like it or not!

Having got those omissions, or at least postponements (of the trip to London and Edinburgh and the quotations from The Importance - as the Brits abbreviate it when speaking of the play), off his chest, he continues/I continue the series with the month of May in the year 2000, when, sharing what I had learned of each of the grand Italian cities in the title, with my mother, sister and aunt.

Once again I will remind readers (you few, you precious few)  that the brunt of what follows will be directly quoted from the journals, and each paragraph that is quoted will be enclosed in quotation marks. If I choose to comment from the present while in the middle of one of those quoted passages, I will place those comments in brackets - [  ]. If I comment from the present between paragraphs of quotes, those paragraphs from 2014 will NOT be enclosed in quotation marks - clear? as mud? Good! Let's begin, shall we?

The first few pages of this particular journal are not of much interest unless you're really reading this blog to learn about Jack's neuroses - let me know if that's the case and I'll be sure to overwhelm you with them - my increasing depression, my increasing irritation at all things Ithaca, my all too rapidly increasing age, along with many other naggings and complaints. Suffice to say that I spent a day or two in New York City before meeting mom, Judy and Aunt Roseann at JFK - saw revivals of The Music Man (only just good-ish) and Kiss Me Kate (terrific!), took in Italian Renaissance paintings and sculpture at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, visited with my friends Will and Mary and some of their friends. I seemed to enjoy "Spring in Manhattan" - great song if you don't know it - I first heard it sung by Tony Bennett and that remains my favorite interpretation of it. 

One more confession, however, before the journal entries begin: I am quite certain I did not date at least some of the entries in the journal correctly. I am revising them as I go, but unless my aunt or my sister can correct me, I remain in uncertainty...sorry! I'll offer from the beginning of the journal only the following:

Wednesday, Thursday or possibly Friday, 9, 10 or 11 May 2000: "I'm in New York for the first leg of my journey to Italy. It's a sort of 'pre-leg/pro-logue' only. Interestingly I feel a little laid back about all the potential excitement that lies before me and my fellow travelers."

"I'm a little surprised at my state of being, especially because tomorrow mom, Judy, Roseann and I will all be excited that we're on board  an Alitalia flight to see the seductive charms of bella Italia, specifically in Rome and Venice. We'll spend four nights in each of those cities, with a day trip from Rome to Florence, and another possible day trip from Venice to Verona, Vicenza or Padua. I know that I will be excited to return to Rome, and I'm also sure that, on exiting the Santa Lucia Rail Station, my first look at Venice will be every bit as exciting as the first time (last spring) I had my breath taken away by the flood of visuals that washed over me. The excitement has not hit me yet, however...well, we'll just wait and see...more of these musings tomorrow, perhaps?"

possibly Friday 12 May, in the morning: "Well, no musings yesterday it seems. But my excitement about Italy grew when I bought nearly 200,000 lira. Today is one almost necessarily filled with anxiety for me, and more so than when I travel alone. I have my three fellow tourists to think of. Will all work out at JFK? Will we all get seats in non-smoking sections of the plane? Will mom be healthier on the flight than she was on the last one, and happy? The responsibility for other travelers weighs heavily, and it adds to a nervousness I feel on ANY day I make a transatlantic flight. But! I have some time to kill, and that time is best spent doing, not sitting and waiting and...getting anxious."

"Tomorrow at this time: Roma!"

A funny thing happened on the way to the...Foro Romano!
I took this on a later trip from the Palatine Hill, which features obviously beautiful views

Saturday 13 May, 9:45 pm:  "Exhausted! After a crazy time meeting other flights, taking flight, arriving in Rome and taking an expensive taxi ride into the city - seeing much along the way - we checked into our hotel. Mom wanted to rest, rightly, but I took Judy and Roseann on a quick tour of several places not too far afield from our lodgings, including the Baths of Diocletian, the Piazza Barberina, the top of the Spanish Steps. Back then to the hotel for a few hours' nap, a nice hot shower and off again to Santa Maria Maggiore (closed unfortunately), to the rail station to negotiate tickets for the day trip to Florence on Monday, and finally to eat a relatively mediocre meal at the trattoria nearest the hotel."

Dinner at the trattoria near our hotel - my
"tre belle Signore" - mom on the left, then
Aunt Roseann, and last but not least sister Judy

"Too tired to say much more, honestly - more than ready for bed, and gearing up for a long touring day tomorrow...must rest...more anon?"

Sunday 14 May, 3:35 pm: "Quite an energetic day, filled with sights and sounds! We were VERY lucky, having taken a taxi to St Peter's, to arrive just in time for the Pope to begin a mass outdoors." 

Surprising Su!

The jam-packed St Peter's Piazza and in the far distance on the right,
under the red canopy, the Pope, as he conducts the outdoor
Vatican mass we witnessed

"We didn't stay for all of it because there was an ordination of many priests as well, and probably lasted for hours. So we taxied back to the hotel, primarily for mom to relieve herself, [pardon the graphic description, but if you have read the tale of my first trip with mom to Rome you'll remember her "embarrassment at San Pietro" - can't be too safe in a city with too few public facilities] and caught the later part of another mass, this one at Santa Maria Maggiore, where a great men's choir sang, and where mom, Roseann and Judy took communion, making their pilgrimage complete!"

Su numero 2!

"After mass we caught another taxi which took us to the Pantheon - as glorious as ever [and to this day one of my favorite buildings in Rome - Dottore Gianni's too!]. It was there that I explained 'Stendhalismo' to my traveling partners."

The Pantheon, from an earlier trip I took to Rome

Sidebar on Stendhal: For those illiterates among you that do not know, Stendhalismo is an experience that the famed French author frequently experienced upon entering places (or viewing a painting, hearing a concert) of great beauty. At times he was overwhelmed and became slightly dizzy with exhilaration. Dottore Gianni and I experience this frequently on our trips abroad, and I for one welcome it, as long as I'm careful not to fall. 

The Piazza Navona, from an earlier trip to Rome

"From the Pantheon we wandered just a tad lost to the Piazza Navona. Once again I JUST missed seeing the Caravaggio paintings at San Luigi dei Francesci...another time perhaps [though from my time of writing this in 2014, and after I think seven visits so far to the Eternal City, I've still not got to the Piazza at an hour when the church was open]. On the 
Tre belle signore at La Dolce Vita on Piazza Navona
Piazza Navona we lunched at Cafe La Dolce Vita, where Antonino Bucci serenaded us. He is a concertina-playing waiter, and quite good at both of his jobs. The pizza we ate was mediocre, but the Cafe and the atmosphere of the Piazza was terrific! From the warmish exterior of the Piazza we slipped into the cool air of Sant' Agnese in Agone [reminds me from my perspective in 2014 of a George Carlin joke, who claimed that he went to school at St Somebody-er-other in Agony - wonder if I thought of it then as well?] and found out a bit about the Sant' Agnese who, while being pulled naked to her place of death, discovered that hair was growing rapidly all over her body to cover her nudity - a miracle! If an odd one..."

Sidebar correctivo: I just "googled" the church to see where it was on the Piazza, and found this in Wikipedia: "The name of this church is unrelated to the 'agony' of the martyr; in agone was the ancient name of the Piazza Navona (piazza in agone) and meant instead, from the Greek, 'in the site of the competitions' because the Piazza Navona was built on the form of an ancient Roman stadium based on the Greek model, with one flat end, and was used for footraces. From 'in agone' the popular use and pronunciation changed the name into 'Navona'." Ha! I knew the Piazza had been built as a stadium, thus its shape, but did not know all this - next time I'm in Rome, and I hope that will be soon (next spring perhaps?) I'll know more than I did the last time I was there, which is just the way I like it! But if Sant' Agnese "in Agone" refers to a place, let's just say that there was clearly some "agony" going on at her death - I read up on her as well, and the instant hair is only one of the legends ascribed to her martyrdom - but I leave that for those of you who like to pry into martyrs' deaths to investigate on your own! Back to the journal...

The Spanish steps in May, but a few years later, when I was in Rome in 2003

"A walk from Sant' Agnese to the Piazza di Spagna, site of the famed Spanish Steps, which were in May covered with plants and flowers, and once there we agreed that we were pretty much done in, so we got ourselves back to the hotel."

"All in all not a bad trip so far. Tonight the plan is to eat at or near the Trevi Fountain, and tomorrow? Firenze!"

Monday, 15 May: "Not quite 7:30 am ahead of our big day trip to Florence!" 

"Wanted to note quickly the dinner we had with Judy's friend of a friend, Maureen Fant. She writes frequently for the travel section of the New York Times , and is working on a book about trattorias in Rome, Florence and Venice. In my opinion she was a bit overbearing, but she certainly knows her Italian food, and we had a delicious meal in the Trattoria La Campana. We drank a nice bottle of Dolcetta d'Alba with dinner and I ate rigatoni with artichokes and red sauce, followed by oxtail stew - messy, bony, but yummy!" The dinner lasted a bit longer than it should have, and I recognized that mom and Aunt Roseann were getting tired, so I got a bit irritated at evening's end and began to rush us." [ah, well, says the sadder but wiser old fellow I've become, I freely admit I'm far from perfect].

"A ragged commentary, I admit..."

"Judy and I want to get to an internet cafe we found, and I'm determined to make quick visits to Santa Maria dell Vittoria and possibly Bernini's church on the Quirinale. Then, at about 10 am we'll leave for Termini Rail Station and embark on what I hope will be a pleasant ride to and visit in Florence...But breakfast first, a tasty affair at our hotel with nice croissants, cheeses, cereals and juice."

Wednesday 17 Maggio: "No entry yesterday! Too busy playing tour guide. In fact I'm not too sure I should have even brought this journal along, as this trip is not so much for me as it is for mom, Roseann and Judy. However I have actually seen a few things in Rome and Florence that I'd not yet had the chance to see, so perhaps the journal's worth it after all."

Note from the present - it certainly seems so now! Bringing up lots of memories!

Tre belle signore at the Ponte Vecchio
"The trip to Florence was crazed, but fun. Once we left the Santa Maria Novella rail station we hit the Bargello, the Piazza della Signoria (aka Piazza Vecchio), crossed the river 
Dottore Gianni likes Cabiria! On a trip in
October 2005
on the Ponte Vecchio, ate at Cabiria [a bar I've eaten at almost every time I've been to Florence, across the Arno (Oltrarno) from the Duomo etc - great salads with a view of Santo Spirito], while in that part of town did NOT get to see the Boboli Gardens [not sure why...were they closed, or was it a matter of our very short time in Florence?], but strolled back (via a fine Gelateria) to the Duomo, then made a final stop (and real treat for me) at and into the beautiful church of Santa Maria Novella, near the station and for which the station is named."

The Duomo, Florence - I don't think I took this on the May 2000
trip, but you never can tell...

"We were all exhausted on the train back to Rome, but I think it's safe to say that we all had a fine day in Florence."

Tre belle signore at Santa Maria Novella, Florence

Definite Su!

"We ate that night very near the Trevi Fountain, at a place called the Taberna, cute with walls like an old monastery, but frescoed with very modern spoofs on the old masters. The decor was better than the food, but everyone seemed pleased with our trip to the Trevi, as we saw it in daylight (we arrived just before dusk) and also lit up at night."

The Trevi Fountain by day, from a visit in 2006

And mom and Aunt Roseann throwing two coins in the fountain - where was Judy for the third?

"Judy and I had a Campari and soda down in the hotel bar, and Aunt Roseann joined us for a chat about too much mid-level admin "bs" at all of our jobs. Then we walked Roseann down for a gelato at the nearby Bar Viminale. Then to bed..."

St Peter's dome from a garden at the Vatican Museums

"...and up early yesterday [Tuesday 16 May, in case you're getting confused - I just was as I typed this] for our trip to the Vatican Museums and and a more detailed look at St Peter's. I.M. Pei's new entrance to the museums makes getting in 
Thalia, Muse of Comedy at
the Vatican Museums - taken on this trip
easier than I'd remembered, and I was happily pleased to see a less than usually packed Sistine Chapel...but the highlight of the trip [looking back at it for me, for the others it was surely the great chapel] was that finally, on my third try, I was able to see Raphael's School of Athens. It is displayed opposite another of his works on a Christian motif, almost as beautiful, and together the paintings make a fine pictorial statement on the values and ideals of the Italian Renaissance. After that a quick trip through the Pinacoteca and an even quicker one to the sculpture garden, and off we went to St Peter's, though we waited a bit longer than we should have for the lift to the roof."

Tre belle signore at St Peter's - this was taken at the Papal Mass

Still another Su!

The Colosseum on mom's and my first visit there in 1996

"Taxied next to the Colosseum, had a sandwich from a Bibita wagon, toured through that great colossus of a ruin, and then a funny thing happened, after which we strolled through the Roman Forum. All grand, but the easy exit from the Forum that I remembered was closed off, so we had to climb, higher than mom wanted, but were rewarded  by coming out onto the Campidoglio [Capitoline Hill - wonderfully symmetrical, designed by Michelangelo], which had been recently cleaned, and it sparkled. We walked down the many steps [far better than walking up them, as I remember from my many trips there - Rome after all IS a city built on seven hills...some of them rather steep], hailed a taxi and were whisked back to our hotel for a well-earned rest after our hardest day of touring."

Michelangelo's symmetrical Capitoline Hill on my visit there in January 1997

A little Giù, but much more Su!

"A short walk and a long dinner at the nearby Cafe Strega, a pizzeria with a nice garden, and to bed, our last night in Rome a dream away."

"This morning (to clarify, Wednesday 17 May) I ran mom to three churches, and then we all headed to the rail station and now, as I write, we're on the train to Venice."

Saturday 20 May: "Ironically, my last evening in Venice prompts my first entry about it in this journal. I just haven't had time, or inclination really, to write. The women have been keeping me busy!"

And at this point of the journal I am taking editorial liberty, from my 2014 vantage point, to cut a short tirade I wrote having primarily to do with why women feel the need to shop their way through every city they come upon. My very belated apologies if I let any of that ire slip out on the trip - and I probably did during our time in Venice - to Judy, Aunt Roseann, even to my dear mother surely looking down on us from heaven, and saying 'tsk, tsk, Jack' as she does so." 

Embarrassing (for me) Giù!

Picking up the journal post-tirade:

Venice! Santa Maria Salute and the Grand Canal

"I'm happy to say that I remembered the city rather well [I'd been there only once, for a week in 1999, whereas I'd visited both Florence twice and Rome thrice before this trip], and 
From the Rialto looking down at
shops and kiosks galore
that I showed my tre belle signore a pretty fine time, particularly yesterday [Friday, 19 May fyi], when we walked, shopping every step of the way [whoops! did I really write that? Yes, yes, I'll confess] to the Rialto, had a wonderful gondola ride nearby [my first and only - lovely but expensive], then after an afternoon rest we attended a lovely, lively concert of eighteenth century, mostly Italian music that was accompanied by a little dance and a clowning Harlequin, featuring two men and two women in period costume, even down to the white face powder." 

Tre belle signore at the Rialto

Sidebar in the confessional mode: I admit that I do not have the slightest memory of that evening's concert! Too bad, as it does sound like it was fun - Judy? Aunt Roseann? Leave a comment on it if you like - in fact leave comments on anything I've left out of this, as I know it is patchwork!

Our gondola ride!

One of only three crossings on the Grand Canal - the Accademis Bridge (the other two the Rialto and the Scalzi, at the rail station) - the Accademia itself is on the left, just behind the bridge

"Today [Saturday 20 May] I led the trio to the Accademia via a route I'd never taken, through San Polo, Santa Croce and Dorsoduro. The Accademia [the great museum featuring art of the old masters in Venice] was nearly as glorious as I'd remembered. I say nearly because the main treat for me in the museum is Bellini. Unfortunately on this visit more than half of his paintings were off the walls being restored. Still, it's a terrific museum, especially for its work by Bellini, but also for paintings by Tintoretto, Veronese and Tiepolo, with a few fine Titians thrown in for good measure; also those two strange paintings by the mysterious painter Giorgione. Less exciting for most perhaps, but very interesting to me were Pietro Longhi's sketches on life in eighteenth century Venetian salons and palaces."

Another slight Giù, but much more Su!

"Mom tends to complain a good bit on trips abroad [as Aunt Roseann and I can attest, she did more than her fair share on our next trip to Europe - but more of that in another post!] and while making our way back to the hotel from the Accademia she blurted out my favorite complaint of this trip - 'Why couldn't they have made the bridges FLAT!?!'"

Hilarious Giù!

"So...while from my point of view not a great trip for journal entries [obviously, Jack, scolds Dottore Gianni in 2014 - this is a woefully incomplete account], for new discoveries or inspiration, I'm certainly not sorry I came. It was a tad too hot in Rome, but the temperatures cooled off a bit in Venice. Weatherwise the only day not perfect (or near) for touring was, unfortunately, the last one, today. I had hoped for one more walk while my tre belle signore are at mass, but the weather is not cooperating. So instead I sit in the hotel room and watch BBC News as I write this. The last supper later, and then a long day of travel back to the States tomorrow... and my most recent trip to Bella Italia will have ended...sigh..."

"I'm not certain I need to return to Rome [though I did, twice, and probably will again]. I feel now that I'm fairly familiar with a good bit of the city and its sights/sites. While I've very much enjoyed it, I think my next trip to Italy needs to be a return to Milano, or a first visit to Napoli. And perhaps my next trip to Europe needs to be a trip to Munich, Salzburg and Vienna, or perhaps to Paris."

Well, my next trip was to none of the above, instead to Moscow and St Petersburg, but the following summer I DID return to Munich, Salzburg and Vienna, and two of my three traveling companions on this trip joined me! To find out which two...sorry, I'm going to keep you in'll have to await, eagerly I hope, my NEXT in this series of blog posts on past travels!


Coda: I confess to being very frustrated with this journal. As I have noted a few times in my post on it, it is FAR from complete. I know that I completely left out many important events in the trip, among them the fact that when we were about to check into our hotel in Venice we were told that it was full, but that we were to be put up at a lovely place a short distance away. I vaguely remember the place as being appealing, but can't be sure - again, Judy or Roseann, if either of you recall, DO post a comment - it's easy, there is room for comments just below this post - I remember walking (or maybe being taken by small boat?) down a small canal to the new hotel, but not its name, or if we liked or disliked it. Another event in the Venice portion of the trip 
Piazza San Marco from the Grand Canal, on my visit there in
March 1999
about which I wrote nothing was our being accosted in Piazza San Marco by someone offering to take us for free by small powerboat to Murano (the small island nearby where fine glass is made). I said yes, though Aunt Roseann was somewhat suspicious of the motive, and she was right to be. I was happy because I'd not yet been to Murano and if I get back to Venice I want to explore a few more of the small islands, but the reason for the free ride was an obligatory tour of one of the glassworks factories, and the high hope that we would spend, spend, spend at the end of it. The tour was not uninteresting, and we fooled them by not spending a penny. We had to wait for a vaporetto to take us back to the main island however, so a portion of one of our precious few days was possibly misspent. 

Well, there are more similar omissions that if included I'm certain would have made this a more interesting read.

Another regret is that I did not sum up the trip at the end of it. I am fairly certain that with certain minor exceptions a good time was had by all, so I'll leave it at that..., oh, and Bravi to my tre belle signore!

...until the next blog post - on the trip to Munich, Salzburg and Vienna. I THINK my diary was more detailed than this one, at least I hope so!