A Spectacular Exhibit at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

DSC_0049 DSC_0050The buildings, designed by Moshe Safdie, present visitors with an architectural delight. The curved walls and linear roof lines form a jointed exoskeleton huddled like a cluster of dormant crustaceans in a watery valley. Regardless of what lies inside the magnificent hull, the outside is certainly worth a visit.

Once a visitor has marveled over the lush landscaping, the winding trails, the various sculptures and the materials forming the structure of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, she must remember there is much to experience on the inside, as well.DSC_0052

 

 

 

 

 

What lures my group up from Little Rock this time is the groundbreaking “State of the Art” exhibit of American avante garde artwork. Museum curators visited studios across the country and selected work by 102 artists for a diverse presentation of materials and ideas from the studios of today’s American artists.

While the crowds are not suffocating, there is a buzz in the air created by the excitement of numerous visitors. People seem truly interested in understanding the works and there are multiple audible “ah-ha” moments rippling throughout the galleries. A couple of the works try too hard to force found objects into an art context, such as the stack of sombreros on blowing fans reminiscent of Donald Judd’s Minimalist wall mounted rectangular forms. But who am I to say? Other visitors might connect with and marvel over that piece. There certainly is something for everyone, as an emphasis on materials (and variety of materials) is a strong theme in the show. Speaking of materials, an important distinction occurs to me as I consider the variety of pieces. This is an exhibit of what is happening in art studios across the country, not an exhibit of what is happening in the art business in our country. The curators seem to have no fear about crossing preconceived boundaries between fine art, craft and technology. DSC_0251 DSC_0257The end result is a presentation of work unfiltered through the business of art giving us a view of what artists, regardless of professional acumen, are making and saying. This is not to say all of these artists are emerging and undiscovered. Many of the artists represented are, indeed, established and already included in fine art museums, galleries and collections. But by visiting nearly 1,000 artists in all areas of the United States, the curators chose artists based on messages and materials and the show mirrors a cross section of what is happening in all types of studios, not just those who have risen to the top of an industry.

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As a painter, I am naturally drawn to many of the 2D pieces, particularly the figurative works of Vincent Valdez (see photo to the right), Delita Martin, and Mequitta Ahuja. Each work by these three artist conveys a strong sense of history and narrative. As with much great art, the pieces can be viewed multiple times with new observations and discoveries made each time.

There are a large number of video and installation pieces as well as an inventive use of materials, such as thread, plastic, glass, wood, recycled objects, and even smoke. DSC_0264Despite the alternative methods and use of materials, most of the artists succeed in communicating a message that can engage viewers, providing just enough information to allow us to “get” the piece, or at least ask relevant questions. To me, this is what makes the show wildly successful.

On the road trip home, our car held three visual artists and one writer, and boy, did we have lots of comments and questions. Despite a thorough visit, I’m ready to return, for one more look at the provoking and engaging exhibit, State of the Art.

NOTE: Below are snapshots of the helpful brochures which allow a wide variety of museum visitors to engage and appreciate the exhibit. I was tempted to work on the games below in the brochure meant for children!

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(Interrupted) Reflections on Italy

In conclusion…

Even the taxi ride to the airport was another grand tour of Rome. I don’t know what all we passed, but there is just too much beauty and history to see. After a two hour delay due to mechanical trouble, we are now airborne leaving Rome. The woman next to me is talking loudly to herself (in Hebrew?) as if we are all going to die indicated by her occasional English statement, “oh a God, oh a God. What is wrong with this airplane!? What is happening. WHAT IS HAPPENING? AYE AYE OH GOD!” I’m trying to make a soothing face and sound to help her simmer down. On top of her building hysteria, I think she might have some sort of bronchial infection or the whooping cough or something. I saw her pop a few pills and am praying they are for sleeping.

Though reflection may take a little more time and distance, I can’t help but to think about what this trip means to me, what I learned and how it impacts the way I think and create artwork.

I learned that most people are the same as each other. I learned that most people have some kindness in them. I learned that we are all impacted by the news, media, and literature we have at our disposal. I learned that McDonalds is doing a good job marketing and selling to Europeans. I learned that many people are jerks when on sidewalks and when it comes to waiting in line. I learned that the USA is in its infancy. I learned that short shorts with bottom cheek hanging out has spread across the globe as acceptable attire for young women. I learned that history is not past, it is living and breathing in every present moment and human thought and decision. I learned that art, philosophy and religion are one in the same and have the same source. I learned that communication can happen without words.

Not one time did I feel unsafe. Not one single time. I was nervous about pickpockets and guarded my belongings, but never did I feel unsafe. As a female traveling alone all over a country, I think this is of utmost importance. I am also extremely grateful that I never got sick, not even a stomach cramp! How fortunate! My knee, which has endured multiple surgeries, held up beautifully and never even hurt, which is unusual. I never even had a crick in my neck or a headache! So so so thankful!

Ok, my reflecting is made difficult by the aforementioned seatmate. From time to time, we read about these people in the newspaper when it gets bad enough…you know, the disruptive lunatics on airplanes. I suppose I should be grateful I’ve never had this happen before. I don’t even know where to begin…she has no sense of personal space, leans over and literally drapes her arm on top of my body. Keeps talking to me, though not in English, and she leans her head ONTO me. We are talking about physical contact here people. I know there are cultural differences with how people interact in crowded spaces but I am getting uncomfortable with this level of physical contact.

When lunch arrived, the stewardess asked if we wanted the chicken or pasta meal and my seat companion kept saying both. She and the stewardess went round and round about how she couldn’t have both, just one. Throughout the meal, each time a flight attendant walked by, the lady asked for a second meal. Eventually, she received another lunch and dumped the whole thing in her purse! Later she dug it out and ate it! She keeps offering me peanuts, which I suppose is nice but she leans way over and puts the bag in my face and I feel like she is tempted to suffocate me with a bag full of peanuts.

I am now TRYING to watch a movie (keep in mind, I’ve been on this plane for over 9 hours now with this woman). She gets up and down from her seat constantly and when people need to pass, she won’t move from the aisle. She asks for drinks when they aren’t serving drinks. I tried to take a nap, and I swear she intentionally poked me in the arm for the entire 45 minutes. When I finally dozed off, she reached across my body and opened the window and the bright light startled me and I was awake (she has the aisle seat and I am in the window seat). I finally gave up and she said something about how I needed some light on me.

As I awoke, I realized she has a full whiskey drink. Seconds later, the drink is empty. A few minutes later the drink cart came around, and she ordered another and the stewardess said, “another?” I don’t know how many I missed while dozing. Based on the fact that she just fell down in the aisle, I’m thinking she’s had more than enough. I’m watching my movie and she holds the glass IN MY FACE and says “whoo whoa whoa, wheezkey, wheezkey, wheezkey.” I’m serious, the cup almost hits my face. I managed to discreetly flag down a flight attendant who, seeing the distress in my eyes, leaned way over so I could whisper, “for the sake of everyone, I beg you to not serve her another drink!” The flight attendant gave me a knowing look and a confirmation nod.

The woman is such a prowler, I have a feeling if she wants a drink, she will wander the plane until she finds an attendant who will serve her one. She pokes at me and interrupts me constantly and asks strange questions. Ok, she just got her baggage down from the overhead and she AND the suitcase fell down onto her and a seated man in another row! He helped her up. Lots of commotion and very loud oying coming from her. She just crawled back into her seat…is poking me on the arm now pointing to her lips which are oozing blood! I suggested that she go to the bathroom to clean up and ask for ice. She came back and started poking me again while I am still trying to watch the movie. She wants me to look at her lips again and I think she wants to show me that the ice is helping.

Now she just asked me to look at a list of phone numbers, loan her my mobile phone and let her call her son. I told her I do not have inflight phone service. Now she is doing what she did with the lunch service. She waits a minute, and asks the same question again and again. “If i cood jus cawl me son!!!! Oye oye oye! I jeest need yuar phone ta cawl me son!” She is up again.

Ok, after reading the book, The Gift of Fear, I am finally learning to listen to my instincts, and I need to move. NOW is my opportunity because she is in the bathroom, or lord knows where. Ok, I just asked a flight attendant if there is another seat, ANYWHERE (I’m about ready to hide in the bathroom). At first, I sensed he thought I was persnickety. But I told him about a few choice moments and he said, “AHHHH! I’ve had my eye on her and have noticed her disruptive and strange behavior. Let me check on a different seat for you.” I packed up licketysplit and by the time he returned and said 19H, I was outta there. My new cabin is like a whole new world. Dark, civilized, quiet. My new seat mate is simply sitting and watching a movie. Three more hours (13 hours total on this plane due to a two hour delay this morning), and I am elated. I really don’t care how much longer we have, as long as I do not have to spend another moment with the deranged woman.

Oh my new seat mate is delightful. After an hour is silence (golden), she asked me for help with reading something in English. We ended up talking about her country, Greece, and she explained how she views the economic problems there. Because I get most of my  information from the news media, it was particularly interesting to hear her perspective on the Greek people, the education system and the general work ethic. Her fiancé has left the country to find a good job and she is traveling to see him and is distressed about their future together and whether or not it can be in Greece.

Now I am on the flight from Atlanta to Little Rock. Initial observations: people here are friendly and for the most part, courteous. People do not crowd each other or shove each other. People reach out and help each other like the person who just helped me get my luggage into the overhead bin a minute ago and the person who just helped two young boys traveling alone. People seem a bit more relaxed and less guarded. My friend, Joan, and I discussed these observations and she concurred, stating, “You should see England! We are all so puritanical, and like order and rules, manners and courtesy. It is in our history and in our genes.” Her comments made me think of my Danish friend, Cecilia, who observed that manners can be kind but also can be counterproductive to being honest and true to ourselves. She argued that her “Nordic sensibility” helps her speak openly, bluntly, and neutrally about her feelings and needs. Regardless of our nationality, striking a balance between self service and kindness toward others is an admirable goal and, for me, a work in progress. The people I encountered on this amazing adventure – whether from Italy, Scotland, Denmark, England, Iran, China, or Germany – lent kind words or gestures in their own cultural style and I am forever grateful.

To friends, family, peers and strangers who found this blog interesting enough to read, thank you for your interest and supportive comments during the past several weeks. Until the next adventure, or an intriguing art topic arises, Ciao!

LauraIMG_4020

Savoring Every Moment, A Final Day in Rome

I finally came to my senses and decided to take a cab instead of walking to the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna….and what happened? The driver took me to the wrong museum and it was the first time a lack of Italian really gave me a problem. Of course, I forgot my handy little dictionary and could only point at my map showing the driver that the museum is located north of Borghese Gardens. Regardless of the indirect route, it was well worth the effort. I saw art connected to, and inspired by art I’ve seen other places such as the Vatican. I saw some of my favorite artists such as Cy Twombly, Francesco Clemente,  Van Gogh, Alberto Giacometti, and Gustav Klimt. image image

One component that was especially eye opening, is the similarity in art themes, styles and materials used worldwide during certain periods of time throughout history. Though not all, much of the museum showcases Italian art through history as well as contemporary time and an incredible collection purchased at the Venice Biennial.

After a coffee at the museum’s Cafe Di Artistes, I walked through the park, regretting my neglect to reserve a ticket in advance for the Borghese Museum. Never the less, the park was beautiful and must have been quite a retreat from the city for the Borghese family. It is located high on a hill just north of the ancient city border, and the ancient fortifying walls still stand in an imposing manner. I ended the morning with a walk down to Piazza Popolo and down Via del Corso with a great lunch and break at a restaurant called Gusto.

It probably would have been wise to take a bus or cab, but once again, I couldn’t resist walking and headed toward the Coloseeum. For some reason, I feel like I’ve avoided this part of Rome…maybe a fear of the extreme crowds…once I arrived, I was SO THANKFUL that I’d read a tip about purchasing your ticket in the Forum entrance instead of the Colosseum entrance line, which must have had over a thousand people in it. There was NO ONE in the Forum entrance line and the ticket works for both sites. An additional bonus at the ticket counter was learning that entrance was free due to the date, the first Sunday of the month.image

imageThe sites were amazing but very steamy. I felt like a true tourist with my umbrella for shade, my camera on shoulder and a map in hand. Again, I’m a tad ashamed for admitting a reliance on Hollywood for historical reference, but seeing the movie Gladiator made my visions more complete while trying to take in the vast architectural and engineering feats of Ancient Rome.image

I continued on, though the heat was almost unbearable (and that’s coming from an Arkansan), past the Palantino Architectural Park, Circo Massimo and then toward the Tiber River and the Campidoglio. At this point, I began entering what was starting to feel like my neighborhood, and I did some gift shopping in Campo Di Fiori. To cool down and clean up, I visited the Museo Napoleonico, which is just south of Piazza Navona. The Palazzo turned Museo is very formal and full of furniture, drawings and portraits. For my taste, the highlight was a beautifully displayed modern fashion exhibit.

Despite all the churches I’ve visited and the fact that they blur in my mind, I couldn’t resist the St. Charles, particularly when I spotted a sign that read, “Have you prayed to the heart of St. Charles?” imageI need to do a little more research, but my guess is the container holds the preserved actual heart of Charles.

Afterward, for my last night in Rome, and in Italy, I had a nice dinner at a restaurant I’ve been wanting to try, Cul-de-Sac, where I tried the escargot, and had the best Mista Salad thus far, followed by tiramisu.image imageThe escargot was so pretty, that the English family next to me threatened to steal it off my table! I’ve never been a big tiramisu fan, but my friend Ellis suggested trying it in Italy…which was good advice, it was SO GOOD. Of course, it was hard to head back to the hotel and I decided to go on one more walk to the Pantheon, which is magical around sunset. On the way back, I did a little souvenir shopping for my family and went to Bar Eustacia which reportedly has the best coffee in Rome. I can’t remember the name of what I’d ordered, something that starts with an M…metopanne, or some thing like that. It was a decaf espresso with chocolate and whipped cream and was HEAVENLY. So on this final night, I went all out and splurged, and it was worth it. It was all so very worth it.

Arrivederci!

PS a few extra pics along the wayimageimageimage

 

Palaces and Churches Galore, Opulance in Rome

After breakfast, I walked down Via del Corso toward the Piazza Venezia and visited the Palazzo Dora Pamphili (thank you for the suggestion, Cecelia!). A portion of this prominent family home is still lived in by the family, and a portion is open to the public as a museum showcasing an incredible art collection. There is an outstanding audio tour done by one of the descendants of the family who is a current resident.

So, you know how these churches hold various relics, some more macabre than others? Well, the private chapel in this family palace holds two preserved bodies, those of St. Theodora and St. Justin. During the 17th Century, the family obtained written permission from the pope to move the saints from the catacombs outside the city which were being ransacked by thieves. We weren’t allowed to get very close or take pictures, otherwise I would give you a look. Another jaw dropping moment occurred as I turned a corner and entered a small, guarded room. There in front of me stood the Velazquez painting of Pope Innocent X. As the story goes, the Pope was initially displeased with the painting because it truthfully captures him too well.

After the tour, I walked around the Trajan Market and Forum which includes the Trajan Column, another slide I remember from a recent art history quiz. Like the a Temple of Hera, it never occurred to me that I would be standing in front of the column trying to decipher the story told in the scroll reliefs. I made myself continue past the multiple museums, twists and turns and focus on my mission: the grand Santa Maria Maggiore. I did start day dreaming of bananas and finally stopped in a market – if you are in Rome amongst all that beauty, and all you can think of is bananas, then I guess your body is trying to tell you something. The Church of Santa Maria Maggiore, located on top of Esquiline Hill, is known amongst other things, for its mosaics and large number of relics, such as a piece of the True Cross. The way the light fell into the lower chamber with the kneeling Pope Pious IX was glorious.

I accidentally took a wide circle off the beaten path (and passed the Piazza Vitorrio Park which was pretty though grungy) as I was trying to find Santa Giovanni in Laterano church. The first thing I noticed, once I arrived, was the sheer SIZE of this church. I mean, it is hard to understand how structures were made this big. There was a huge youth event happening when I arrived with lots of singing which was festive and pretty.

And then, continuing the church tour, on to San Clemente (thanks for the suggestion, Katie!). It is a church built on top of a church which was built on top of another church. As a visitor, one can descend all the way down 10 meters to the original structure, a groups of buildings dating back to the 1st Century, and see a still functioning spring and water system and rooms believed to be a Roman mint. There is also a group of rooms on the lowest level that from the 2nd to 4th centuries served as the seat to the Eastern pagan cult of the God of Mithras.

I’d heard that San Pietro in Vincoli would be hard to find, so I loaded up on coffee and struck out from the refreshing cool depths of San Clemente and continued on my pilgrimage. I made the effort to visit yet another church in order to find Michelangelo’s Moses sculpture and it was well worth the hike. He gleamed and almost pulsated, looking like he might stand up at any moment to declare something of great importance.image As a bonus, I got to the THE CHAINS worn by Peter when he was jailed. Regardless of one’s religious beliefs, seeing the relics and the power they hold is something I find intriguing, as well as inspiring, to consider.image

Tonight, after a cold shower, I went out searching for food. I really can hardly emphasize how hungry I am most of the time. I think it is partly due to a different diet, but mostly I am famished because of this obsession to walk and climb and walk and climb and walk and climb.

For example, I fully intended in catching a bus first thing this morning and heading straight to one of my further destinations, either Santa Maria Maggiore church or Santa Giovanni in Laterano church. But I had trouble finding a bus ticket the had trouble finding the correct bus, and all the while I was headed in the general correct direction, and when walking you can take the time to peek in lots of surprise piazzas and churches and see the most amazing treasures, so I just kept going. The problem is that I was utterly exhausted about halfway though the day and still had so much to see…ah, the frustration of visiting Rome.

imageAnyway, because I can’t seem to stop moving, I’ve had a hard time sketching which was a strong part of my first two weeks in Italy. In Rome, there is such a tremendous amount to sketch, both indoors and outdoors and I am irritated with myself for not sitting down long enough to draw. Tonight, I grabbed my sketchbook and made a plan: Pick up a sandwich at a shop near Area Sacra Argentina, then walk down to the beautiful and well lit Piazza Venezia. I found the perfect spot, started my sandwich (famished AGAIN and trying to eat slowly so I wouldn’t choke), and a woman came up and asked the name of the massive structure in front of us. She and her parents were visiting from China (actually the women who approached me has lived in Berlin for twenty years and works in pharmaceuticals). They sat and visited with me for about 45 minutes!

imageThen I walked up stairs suitable for a giant whose legs each measure 8-10 feet long. And everything up there was so pretty! Spectacular! Then I found the famous Romulus and Remus sculpture that symbolizes the myth of the start of Rome…and then….ok, you get the point. Can you see how hard it is to sit still here? I have loads of photos that will provide inspiration for my art for many years and I wouldn’t trade my lovely conversation with Shanji and her parents for a small handful of sketches anyway.image

The climbs never end. When I finally drag myself back to home base after 14 hours of walking, I hike up 4 flights of stairs and my legs absolutely scream. There is a tiny elevator meant for those unable to take the stairs or with luggage and I am too proud to get on it. The people in this city literally trot up never ending stair cases with little effort and I won’t be the American tourist looking for the elevator. Plus, like they say, when in Rome…

An Early Start in Rome

imageThis morning, I left the hotel early on foot for the Vatican area meeting place for a Walks of Italy tour. The tour, called “Sistine Pristine” included early admission to the Sistine Chapel, many of the halls and collections of the Vatican, and St. Peter’s Basilica. We visited and learned about the globe collection, the splendid tapestries, the Egyptian art, the various Popes, the collection of animal sculptures, the Raphael rooms, and about the modern collection (which surprisingly includes artists such as the Matisse and Dali). The true shock was seeing  Francis Bacon Pope painting just tucked amongst the art in a little side room. I assumed it was at the Louvre, the Prado, MOMA, anywhere but here.

I would highly recommend a Walks of Italy tour. For starters, our guide Rosa, was knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the collections. I’ve read complaints about visiting the Sistine Chapel and being shoulder to shoulder with aggressive tourists. Going on the early tour was peaceful and calm and I could tell the guards were waiting for the onslaught. We got to gaze upward to our heart’s content and the ceiling and walls really do live up to the hype. Additionally, the famous display halls were empty except our little group of 8. One of my favorite moments was passing this guard and noticing his sketchbook (both the Swiss Guards and the Vatican museum guards are SUPER SERIOUS). It surprised me to find him sketching – he even let me take a photo and seemed quite proud. What a great place to work for an artistic guard!!!image

Plus, Rosa explained so much of the inner workings of the museums and the business of the pope. For example, she explained the process of the white smoke coming out of a vent along the edge of the Sistine Chapel when a new Pope is elected (one name has to be chosen by 80% of the cardinals in attendance). She is also from a old Roman Catholic family so she is a true insider and passionate about the site and the traditions.

After the tour, and after visiting the Vatican City post office to mail letters, I took a cab (phew!) to the Travestere neighborhood to see some sights and eat lunch. On my way to two churches, I got lost and ended up in a convent turned retirement home/hospital inside a lush walled garden area. It was an oasis amongst the historic, gritty and loud neighborhood. Eventually, I made it to the Church of Saint Cecelia. It was believed that her beautiful voice was some type of sorcery and she was executed in 177 A.D. Not only was she executed for singing, but she was decapitated, and legend has it that during the decapitation, she continued singing. This marble sculpture shows her severed neck.image

I then found San Francesco a Ripa and got to admire, without another sole in sight, the famous Bernini sculpture, Beata Ludovica in Ecstacy, a sensuous marble sculpture that has drawn much attention since its creation for being the most provocative religious art around. I know these church visits can seem repetitive, but they hold treasures that are highlighted, due to historical importance and beauty, in art history books worldwide. And to gaze at Bernini’s sculpture in the cool isolation of this church feels like a small miracle.

After a few more churches and piazzas, I departed the Travestere area and walked across the bridge which traverses tiny Tiber Island….then wandered down Via del Portico d’Ottavia with all it’s enticing aromas and Hebrew shop signs. This street borders some of the larger ancient Rome sites and showcases a startling mix of structures from antiquity with relatively modern walls, stores, and cafés. This stroll led to Piazza Mattei, home of the beloved Tortoise Fountain. I had plans to meet my Danish friend, Cecelia, in Campo Di Fiori so I turned westward.image Along the way, I got to inspect the odd Largo Di Torre Argentina, which is a walled rectangular area where the ground is depressed and full of ancient structures and overgrowth. It is also full of frolicking and lounging cats who use the ancient columns, walls, arches, and water cisterns as a playground and home.

imageIt was a treat spending the afternoon with Cecelia, my Danish art resident friend. Though I’ve met many people along the way, I’ve noticed days where I talk with almost no one. It is a strange outward silence and inward conversation that replaces a more social life at home. We met around 3:00 at Campo Di Fiori for coffee, visited several churches, a bookstore and little piazzas. We then visited the Pantheon and headed to Piazza Navona for her favorite gelateria before she headed to the airport for her flight to Copenhagen.image

After I picked up laundry, showered, rested, and worked on plans for Sat and Sun, I went out to dinner near Piazza Navona at a little place called Caffeteria Pasquino. There, I sat next to a young woman from Germany. She was recently a nanny in Australia which reminded me of Kelly Corrigan so, of course, I had to suggest she read Glitter and Glue.

And finally, to bed.

Oh, Rome!

Oh Rome! I could stay awhile longer! Most of what I’ll say, is what all visitors say…I am consumed by the ceaseless visual delights. Wandering around without an agenda is the best piece of advice because if you are busy looking FOR something, you may miss the unexpected treasures that are so voluminous, they assault the eye. It is impossible to go one block without seeing something surprising, something beautiful, something rare, something ancient or something with an amazing story behind it.image

After Gennaro (remember him from the train station in Naples?) helped me get an earlier train to Rome, I arrived in time to check in and take a good long walk. I don’t think I mentioned that earlier in the day, I basically got lost in the ‘burbs of Pompeii – during a rain shower. As you may know, there aren’t exactly many roofs in Pompeii due to the fact they all were incenerated so it was hard to find a spot to wait out the downpour but I managed to squeeze under a narrow footbridge with some Belgian students. I digress…my point is that I’d already walked quite enough for one day but once your feet start taking you places in Rome, it’s hard to stop, regardless of extreme fatigue. My loop included the Pantheon (Oh. My. Gracious.), Piazza Venezia, and up to Trevi Fountain which is undergoing a massive restoration. I would be disappointed about my timing with Trevi Fountain if I weren’t so googly eyed about other delights.

Oh and before I forget, if you travel to Rome and arrive at the Termini Train Station, there is a life-saving Info desk down the corridor next to track #24 (the Leonardo Express train to and from the airport). I was the only person there getting help which correctly indicates it is out of the way and is unmarked, making it not very accessible. But, I seriously don’t know if I would have made it out of the train station, much less all the way to my hotel, had I not made the effort to stop there. They sell superior maps, speak some English and can help you with instructions on buying a bus ticket, which bus to take, and where to get off the bus.

NEXT DAY:

Tonight, I intended to spend time at the laundromat (yes, an enthralling evening out) but when I arrived, the man said they were about to close and for 13 euros, I could leave it for next day pick up. I admit I was overjoyed that someone let me off the hook. I’ve been spending such a small about of money (I think I spent 40 euros TOTAL the week of the art residency), that it didn’t take much deliberation to hand the laundry bag over and run.

So I ended up walking around the relatively quiet Prati neighborhood. I saw a woman smoking a cigar, I saw the Tiber turned pink reflecting the sunset, I saw the moon over St. Peter’s Basilicata, I saw little girls on skateboards with their parents strolling behind, I saw many bulldogs and pugs and dashaunds being walked, I saw old couples on old cobblestone streets helping each other keep their footing, and I saw many nuns on walks and in clusters hanging out on the corners, under monuments and along piazzas. I’d like to think I’ve developed a bit of a city swag as I walk these neighborhoods, but the truth is, I think I’ve developed a sway in my gait because it gives me the extra centrifugal force necessary to propel myself forward after today’s outings.

imageSpeaking of today’s outings, it started with the Scavi Tour, which means a tour of the necropolis under St. Peter’s Basilica. Our guide, Daniella, was an enthusiastic and knowledgeable religion historian. But let me first point out, if you visit Rome and want to visit St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, I HIGHLY RECOMMEND signing up (a month ahead of time…google the instructions) for the Scavi Tour. It costs 13 euros and is THE ticket to success in the crowds. Seriously, you are amongst thousands and thousands of people getting in the longest lines you’ve ever seen (and for good reason, the Basilica is not to be missed). With your printed email conformation from the Scavi office, you bypass the masses, go around the left side of the ginormous piazza, and walk up to a little police trailer and poke your head in with a Buonagiorno, he checks your purse, and then these fancy court jester looking Vatican guards tell you to stand at the gate until 10 minutes before your tour and voila, they let you in. And that’s it. No line.

After the Scavi tour, you have access to the tombs of all the Popes and to the Basilica, including the righteous vertical hike to the tip top of the dome. But more on that in a moment. Before we scale the highest point, I must describe the dark, dank, oxygen deprived, winding, narrow, maze like environment down below. It was AWESOME. Other than the lack of oxygen, which made me feel faint, and a touch a claustrophobia, which I usually do not experience, what we saw down there was so old, so preserved, so historical, and utterly profound with regards to Christianity. As I mentioned, Daniella was outstanding in helping us understand how this area looked in, say, the year 100 AD.

Daniella explained what the site looked like before Vatican City was formed, even before Christianity was made legal by Constantine. The land was muddy and undesirable to Romans, plus it was on the “wrong” side of the river. Because the Roman practice was to put the dead outside the city, the hill on the wrong side of the river slowly became a popular place for upstanding Roman families to build their mausoleums. The narrow alleyways that are now under St. Peter’s Basilica were little alley ways between family tombs out in the country side.

Because the Roman practice was to respect all previously built holy structures, no matter what religion, historians believe today that they justified building a basilica on top of tombs based on the idea that the tombs would remain intact and unharmed, simply underground. Additionally, the Roman engineers built passageways that allowed them to haul in dirt to fill cavities and to build support beams for the new basilica.

After the Scavi Tour, once receiving adequate oxygen and feeling invigorated, I found myself going up a very long wide winding staircase. The incline was slight and the stair steps were both long and wide. After about 5 minutes of this loping around, we took a turn and walked up steeper stairs for about 5 more minutes. imageOnce the staircase narrows to the shoulder with of your average man (European, not American, no offense to anyone, but potential visitors need to know that there is a definite human width limitation), you realize there is no turning around. This passage is one way only. And then, without warning, you pop out a door and find yourself amongst the mosaics lining the base of the dome cap. Looking down at all the tiny people wandering in St. Peter’s Basilica was both frightening and exhilarating. But wait, there’s more!image

We were so high up, I mistakingly thought we would be fairly close to the top cupola. I decided to be brave and make my way upward once again. The staircase was terribly narrow and I noticed many people, such as all the men, turning their bodies at an angle just to fit through. There were areas of the ascent that induced vertigo because the step plane was no longer parallel to the ground and walls curved inward, not perpendicular to the ground. This went on and on and on and on and on. And when that ended, we filed up hollow tubes that were maybe three feet wide total (the tube, bot the stair width) that held tightly wound staircases with a long rope dangling down the center to hold on to for balance (no room for a railing!). This went on and on and on and on. I just let myself go into a meditative state and climb endlessly. Then, we arrived on the very tip top and the views were heavenly. After making it back down eventually, I visited the ground floor of the basilica which was saturated with sumptuous marble sculpture and mosaics. And more of the Vatican tomorrow! Ciao!

Good bye Salerno, Hello Pompeii

RANDOM TRAVEL TIPS:
Always carry a little toilet paper or napkin in your pocket. Multiple benefits.
Always carry a water bottle. You can refill them at public springs that are all over every place I’ve visited.
Use the restroom when you have the opportunity. When necessary, find a nice looking bar/cafe for a cappuccino break and use the restroom there.
Learn how to say compliments to the people around you. Nice words and the effort opens doors (I’m not suggesting to be fake, just gracious).
In your suitcase, pack an extra zip lock bag and an old plastic shopping bag.
Ok, on to the activities of the past day or two…

Salerno has a gritty charm and breathtaking beauty that is different from the other places I’ve visited so far in Italy. I walked around the city after returning from Paestum and visited the Duomo (barely, it closed within minutes of my arrival), many beautiful piazzas, and the Museo Dioceseno San Matteo.image Many travelers suggest letting yourself wander without an agenda and getting lost in a city and that’s what I did, which is how I ended up being ushered into the Diocese Museum. Though it was 5 minutes before closing, a man at the door told me I could go up to have a look before they locked up. It was incredible and I got to see the worlds oldest ivory tablets from the Christian Middle Ages. The 69 tablets, depicting the Old and New Testaments, were lost and dispersed around the globe and have all been reunited. However, I almost got locked in, as the man who ushered me in left work for the day and when I tried to exit, the huge door (seen in the photo above) was locked. I had that throw up panic feeling starting to churn in my stomach (a similar situation occurred recently in a cemetary, of all places!). Thankfully, I found another worker who let me out. PHEW.

THE NEXT DAY: Now I am on the fastest train ever going (in a tunnel for a large part of the trip) from Salerno to Pompeii. I was afraid I would miss my train when I woke up this morning because my shower would not work. If I could even tell you how much I sweated yesterday, you would know the situation of a malfunctioning shower was dire. In my pajamas, I wasn’t sure what do do expect call the B&B cell number, though no one answered. After messing around looking for help for about 10 minutes, I had to act fast and basically bathe in the sink. Not to brag, but I was a impressed with my adaptability and got the job done. By the time the owners of the B&B arrived, I was dressed and ready to check out. They kindly gave me a 10 euro refund which was actually a large percentage of the bargain rate and as I was leaving, the owner, apologizing again and again, gave me a little boat souvenir. Although it was an inconvenience, they were so nice about it, my irritation was quickly quelled.

Ok, now I am in Pompeii Scavi and it is unbelievable. Here is a photo of one of the best preserved buildings – you can guess what the business was based on the activity in the photo ;) ?image

I should be too embarrassed to admit this, but I watched the cheesy Hollywood movie “Pompeii” recently and it really helped me imagine the streets full of people, the homes, the businesses, and the volcanic ash and heat rushing down and covering the town. Admittedly, I have a touch of fear every time I furtively glance over at Mt. Vesuvius which looks particularly ominous shrouded in today’s dark clouds. imageI know these images have been seen over and over, but the streets really were striking. One large stone meant the street was one way. Two large stones meant it was two way, and three large stones meant it was a major thoroughfare. We could see the groves in the stones from the cart wheels which was one of those eerie details making the daily human activity even more real in my mind. image

imagePOMPEII TIPS: I  saw countless people fall down. Wear comfortable shows, do not wear sandals. Wear tons of sunscreen and a hat. Take an umbrella. Do lots of research beforehand, there is too much to see and you need to prioritize. Do a guided tour. The ruins are not the only old thing in Pompeii – the street signs and info signs, when you can find them, are disintegrated and illegible. When you buy your ticket, if you do not do a guided tour, ask what streets and sites are closed or impassable. Do not rely on your map. The site changes constantly. (Another good reason to have a guide). There were so many English speaking guides around that I inadvertently absorbed information along the way, which helped tremendously. But if I did it all over, I would have joined a guided group from the start.

Now I am waiting for the bus to Naples where I’ll have real Naples pizza before my train leaves for Rome. First order of business in Rome? A SHOWER!!!

Ok, I’m going to have to write a letter to Trenitalia about my hero, Gennaro F. He would not let me take his picture, but I made sure to jot down his name. I don’t even know how to describe the lengths this man went through to get me on an earlier train from Naples to Rome. First, let me say, the Naples train station was superbly designed and well run. Unlike most places I’ve visited, there were multiple Info kiosks and they were staffed with plenty of people to handle the crowds. My only regret with catching the earlier train was that I had to miss Naples pizza.

Back to Gerraro, initially he helped me at a fast ticket change booth. Knowing I would not be able to understand the ticket printing machine, he walked me to the machine and did the operations for me. It did some sort of system shut down and he rebooted it and tried again. When that didn’t work, he went to a supervisor and they tried again. That didn’t work so he went back to the machine, printed the ticket, and hand wrote new information on it while waiting for his phone gadget to calculate a new seat number for me. He then walked me to the correct platform and train while we waited on my new seat assignment. I asked him if what he was doing was usual, normal, and he laughed, shook his head and said “no.” He even walked me on to the train, helping with my luggage and pointing to my seat! And off I go to Rome, 2.5 hours ahead of schedule. Thank you, Gennaro! Yes, there are rude people who will plow you down and cut in line faster than you can blink an eye. But I’ve run into more Gennaros than jerks and I hope my good fortune continues.

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Next post…ROMA!!!