This 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!!!
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.
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. 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.
It 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.
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.