Sunday, October 30, 2011

Rome, Day Two

So, as planned, I spent today with Lance, the American dude on his way back from Iraq.

It went really, really well. Actually, a lot better than planned in a lot of ways.

Rudy had driven my be a lot of stuff in Rome – for instance, the ruins and a building that goes by the name of “the wedding cake.” With Lance, I had the opportunity to actually stand next to all this stuff and take pictures (and, bonus, now that Rudy had given me all the background info, I was able to call up bits and pieces of it to share with Lance – it also helped me get a better handle on things when I was seeing them for a second time and trying to repeat some of the info). We started off looking at a bunch of the ruins (there are so many pictures, it will take me hours to go through them all). Lance saw what looked like a really pretty building way up the hill and wanted to get a good look at it. I didn’t quite realize it until we were there, but it was “the wedding cake.”

On the way up the hill, we got an awesome view of the Constantine Arch. I’d seen that the other day from the Colosseum, but that was down on the ground level – seeing it from a staircase gave us a much better view of the frieze on it. Then, once we reached the top of the winding stairs, we were in an open piazza which looked vaguely familiar. Yes! I recognized the statue of Marcus Aurelius on horseback in the center. Rudy had driven me by this piazza – we were on a road at the bottom of the main stairs leading up to it – and told me about the statue. (Basically, someone had lied and said it was a statue of Constantine, the first Roman Emporer to convert to Christianity. For this reason, the Church did not destroy the statue as they’d destroyed other Roman stuff.) The statue is in the center of a plaza with buildings on three sides (the main stairs are on the fourth). Two of those buildings make up a museum. I know this because it said “Museo” on it. The museum had two other words I recognized, on a banner announcing a temporary exhibit: “Michelangelo” and “Leonardo.” These were good words to see on a museum. I made a note of the name of the place, and Lance and I made our way down the main stairs and around the corner to the “wedding cake” building.

Am still not entirely clear what the wedding cake is – it’s labelled as something like the ministry of history and culture, but that isn’t the name it goes by now. We went up the stairs on the front of this thing (there were a lot of stairs today – I happily report no knee issues at all), at which point I remembered Rudy had said there was a Tomb of the Unknown Soldier here. We hit the top just in time to see the changing of the guard. We went inside the building (in Lance’s continuing quest to get to the top of the damn thing for the view) – there were lots of flags inside; they looked like regimental flags, and I guessed we were in a military museum of some sort. There also looked like there was a second Tomb of the Unknown on the inside.

We never quite made it to the top. There was a scenic elevator, for which there was a fee, so we decided to take a pass on it, but we got some lovely pictures from a terrace.

We had a map. Looking at the map, it seemed like we weren’t all that far from the Trevi fountain, so I suggested we walk over there. Walked Lance over to the Trevi fountain and got some more pictures. On our way over, I noticed a sign that said Pantheon, and realized that wasn’t all that far from things either. I wanted to show that to Lance – I’d been talking it up the other day – and, actually, I really wanted to give it a second look. So, after lunch (yummy lasagna), we walked on over to the Pantheon. Way more crowded than it had been yesterday, but still as impressive.
We then decided to head back to the hotel, but first stopped at an internet cafe. While there, I googled the museum in question and discovered it was hosting a temporary exhibition of upwards of 60 drawings by Michelangelo and Leonardo – the largest collection ever exhibited together. I was all over this. Admission was 6 Euro, but admission to the exhibit AND the museum was 12 Euro. I did some further research and decided that, yes, I wanted to see the museum, too.

Now, Lance had arrived her from Iraq with a backpack and the clothes on his back, so he was in need of some clothes shopping. We split up for a few hours – he hit the shops and I hit the museum.

I want to be very clear that, as the whole fate thing goes, I never would have known about this exhibition if I hadn’t spent the day with Lance. I’d looked at a magazine listing museums and exhibitions and it didn’t mention this (it was an October magazine and this exhibition had just started on the 27th). And I would not have walked up to this plaza if Lance hadn’t wanted to walk to the top of the wedding cake. So, totally, even though Lance didn’t end up going to the museum, it’s indirectly due to him that I ended up there.

And the exhibition was awesome. No photos were allowed in there, and the little weasels were not selling a catalog of it. (I checked. For the record, this is the first time in my life that I wanted to buy the catalog for a museum exhibit.) I’ve probably mentioned that, as a general rule, I like artifacts more than art – manuscript rooms are often my favorite parts of museums, and I love seeing drafts written in the hand of famous authors. And this here exhibit was about 66 examples of, basically, the place where art and artifact meet. I was standing with no more than six inches (and some museum glass) between my face and a piece of paper on which Leonardo sketched a design of a machine, or Michelangelo sketched a study of a face. These were terrific from the “I dig manuscripts” point of view, but there was also some impressive art going on in some of them (Michelangelo’s “Cleopatra,” for instance). And it was such a great opportunity to see the difference between the two artists – see them both sketch a man’s profile; Leonardo’s is a perfectly accurate depiction of how the man appears, while Michelangelo’s is idealized and captures the emotion of the moment. See them both sketch a building; Leonardo’s is a mathematically-precise blueprint, Michelangelo’s looks pleasing. (And both were huge fans of the ancient classical ideal.) They were each dancing around perfection, but in completely different ways.

Having given that exhibit about an hour, I had another hour to spend in the rest of the museum, which also held plenty of treats. I discovered that the statue of Marcus Aurelius we had seen in the courtyard was a copy – the original was inside the museum (having been harmed by years of exposure to the elements), and was much more impressive. (In this case, the copy didn’t compare. Hell, the color alone was amazing on the original.)

Rudy had taught me that most of current Rome is built on top of ancient Rome (the latter having been at the level of the river Tiber). This was conveniently demonstrated by the museum itself – when doing some excavation near the impressive room where Marcus Aurelius is displayed, they discovered that the museum itself is located on the site of an ancient Roman temple, so they just opened the floor for us to get a good look at it. Thus art and architecture happily meet here.

Various other cool things – some unexpected (like a tablet indicating the powers of the emporer – the damn thing contained what I can only call an early “supremacy clause” – my inner lawyer geek was impressed) and some anticipated (the Greek statue – although a Roman copy – known as the “Dying Gaul”... I’d studied it in college and loved seeing it up close; also got a camera angle on it I’ve never seen before)

(Interesting note about Roman copies – Rudy, who is otherwise a 100% awesome tour guide – tried to pass off a Roman copy as an original Greek statue in the Vatican, until I called him on it (in most instances, a Roman copy is crazy easy to spot). He gave an explanation about how when something is this old, you can safely call the Roman copy an “original” artistic piece. This may be legit, although I had specifically asked if this was an original Greek statue. In any event, I pretty much gave notice that I’m not falling for that.) ANYWAY, the Dying Gaul that they have at the museum is a Roman copy – I’ll have to look it up, but this may be one of those statues that we ONLY know through its Roman copies – and the piece was getting a lot of attention in the museum. I’d given Rudy a certain amount of shit for trying to pass off a Roman copy as a Greek original in the Vatican, but now that I was looking at Dying Gaul up close, I didn’t entirely care that it wasn’t the original. In retrospect, I gave Rudy a pass. While I hadn’t appreciated what he was saying at the time, I sort of got it while I was looking at the Dying Gaul. This was the Dying Gaul – even though it was a Roman copy of the Greek original, it was a copy made by someone trying to exactly copy the original, and he’d done a job that convincingly lasted for nearly two centuries. That’s good enough (and may be the only chance I’ll get).

Lance and I met for dinner (I am happy to report that Italian hot chocolate is just as good as nice, thick French hot chocolate) and said our goodbyes. (I have to pack.) I’m very glad I had a friend to share Rome with today.

Early start for the airport tomorrow – I’ll be home soon.

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