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The story of Jim


5/2/01: The plane trip over wasn't bad, except for two women who gossiped about how stupid their friends were all night on the way to Rome. I slept for quite a bit of it but once I woke up even earplugs couldn't defend against their stiletto-like astonishment. Honestly, their voices were like bone saws. One of the flight attendants was Louise Fletcher, who definitely needs a better agent. American Airlines has a deal with CBS to show episodes of “King Of Queens” and “Raymond” and promos for other shows, which gets really old, really fast. I wrote in my journal “so many reasons to emigrate.” At Chicago I saw the pre-plastic-surgical Linda Tripp, proving that the republicans in fact saved the parts and made a new one. I thought it had been kept in deep freeze but apparently there was an accident. She got on the plane with me and I was terrified to say anything to anyone. Also, years ago, O’Hare was the first place I ever saw toilets that flush and water that starts and stops all by itself, without your turning a handle. Now, they’ve improved even on that. You wave your hand in front of a sensor on the wall, and the plastic sheath that encircles the toilet seat rotates, carrying the previous man’s filth away and providing you with a clean surface to park your rump on. I couldn’t be more impressed.

Once we got to Fiumicino the two gossiping hyenas strode about overpronouncing Italian words ("ROM-A! PRAN-ZA!") and made me glad they were going on from there so I wouldn't have to murder them. After waiting in a line half an hour, the customs agent didn't even want to look up to see that we had passports. The only luggage searches seemed to be for returning Italians. I got lost trying to find the train, then got lost at Termini trying to find the right subway (I finally opened my luggage to retrieve a map next to a mounted remnant of the Servian wall, parts of which are also prominently displayed in the nearby McDonald's), then got lost at Piazza Barberini trying to find Via del Tritone. All in all it took 3 hours to get to the hotel, and I arrived drenched. Rome is so humid! It's like Chicago. The Triton fountain there was wonderful, but there was nothing surrounding it but pavement, which was surprising, since we gussy-up our fountains here with foliage. The little bee fountain at the foot of the Via Veneto was much cuter. I was so tired I didn't ask to look at the room first and they didn't show it to me, just handed me the key and directed me up the stairs. I'd even rehearsed asking to look at the room. Instead, I collapsed on the clean comfortable bed and slept from 2-10pm. I had a dream about being lost in Rome and stuck on the “south side” of town, and I walking/bussing around in circles. Then I got in with some group of people who were “friends” and that was very strange and involved various things I intended to do, plus getting involved with some local gay rights organization. Glad to wake up from that.

The room was tiny, though clean, and the bathroom made me laugh when I saw there was a shower spigot aimed at the toilet. A few days later another room opened up (I saw it open, is what I mean) with a separate shower but I decided to just stay put for the humor aspect. Rome was so humid none of my dry-overnight things did & I used the hairdryer for it and abandoned the use of undershirts entirely. Heavy as my luggage was, I really wanted even more clothes, because everything stank after wearing it once, and the sweaters were wholly unnecessary. The special TravelSmith underwear that “wicks” the moisture away from your body works, but it “wicks” it right into your clothes where it dries and leaves your most fetid smells, a side-effect I had not fully apprehended. But yes, it’s convenient location become its overwhelming appeal. I just wish I’d lobbied for that other room.

My right knee didn’t like the cobblestones but it wasn't too bad and I'm able to be in great pain and still enjoy myself, which is a blessing and a curse (it means I put up with things that I don't have to because I'm half-insensible to them). It would just begin to hurt after a long day of walking on uneven surfaces. Once I bought the brace though I was fine. My feet of course hurt too, but never in an injured way, so the shoes worked, ugly as they were. (These were a pair of Mephisto’s and some Rockport walking shoes.)

I loved Rome, in spite of the rudeness and unconcern of the tourist-weary (or loathing) locals. But then I'm a city guy, so I roll with it. And yes, it may be soot-stained, but it’s far from “dirty” as some people have described it, even around Termini. There was far less litter (though some) than blows into my own yard for me to pick up. It reminded me, naturally and not for the first time, of “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie”: “Little girls, observe: Litter. In Italy, Mussolini has put an end to litter in the streets.” Well, that and Jews, yes.

Thursday 5/3, the day I arrived, I awoke at 10pm, dressed and wandered out for food, finding in a back alley behind the hotel the Osteria Romana. I dove right into tripe and it was all very good. The language totally mystified me, since no one spoke in the appointed phrases but made language up all on their own, but there was a hunky young waiter who leered after an American girl once she left and spoke in what I imagine was very salty language. Also, the waiter made a cute bid for a tip: he brought me back all my change except for what he felt was right for a tip, which he then proceeded to pull out of his own wallet so that I could say “no no, va bene.” In the hotel room, there are 2 sets of windows on the street side so I didn't have to worry about the exhaust or the noise from the buses, which I grew to be very fond of once I bought a weekly pass which no one ever checked. Plus, my ATM card worked (I had about 160000 lire from my roommates when I arrived).

First full day I went to the Campidoglio, first taking in Marcus Aurelius's column at the bus stop, which I had mistaken for Trajan’s column and found it underwhelming; later I read that in creating a copy of Trajan’s column, MA’s sculptors had tried to create reliefs of greater depth but the quality had suffered, which indeed it had. Then I wandered through the poorly curated museums. The DK guide was very helpful but somehow I missed the Dosso Dossi room. Still, the gigantic Marcus Aurelius in the square, the first glimpse of the Colosseum, and a particular statue of Septimus Severus were quite delightful and made up for the cute Germans whose eyes I could not catch. I really loved the pieces of the colossal Constantine, particularly the detail work on the arm and feet. There was a very sad Aphrodite whose face had been completely rubbed off by evil Christians that looked like the most tragic figure of misogyny I’ve ever seen. The amount of defacing is really shocking. The room with busts of all the emperors is not labeled, you need a guide, but I could figure a few out. The bronze Lupa and 1st c. BC Spinaro (the boy taking a thorn out of his foot) were impressive as well. They have one verified Caravaggio (John the Baptist as a laughing boy), a few other good works I can’t recall and a ton of second rate lesser artists (or, more fairly, second-rate works by lesser artists, like Guercino, whom I came to like, Reni and Carracci. Tons of Cortona, all boring, though I saw some Reni’s later in some church that changed my opinion of the poor guy).

I then ate a good lunch (sole, not filleted: the head was rather bony but I soon mastered the fish knife) at some trattoria Gsomething nearby and wandered around the Theater of Marcellus and the Tarpeian rock, which also began my theme of taking the longest possible route to reach anything. The DK Guide was useless for the Forum & Palatine, however, and I wished I'd brought the Michelin Green Guide ("MGG") along but had left it in my room. I couldn't figure out the Palatine arrangement at all, but I suspect that what I was looking for was in a closed-off portion. The problem w/the DK Guide is it orients you according to an “entrance” which no longer exists, instead of simply being a north-oriented map as the MGG does. Still, I enjoyed the Forum as much as I thought I would and grew rather depressed in that Ozymandius way. Also, the tour guides didn't seem to know any more than I did. Seeing even remnants of things I know from history, like the Rostra, the grand temple of Jupiter, the temple of Vesta and the vast Constantine basilica, even if I know a lot of columns were put back up later, was thrilling. But I missed seeing the Black Stone, and couldn’t get into the Vestal atrium. And it’s amazing how the Cloaca Maxima still smells like a sewer. Which is how much of Florence smells, actually…. The Palatine was more daunting in that I couldn’t find the houses of Augustus and Livia, but the rest was lovely, and covered with the same blood-red poppies I saw on the train into Rome from Fiumicino. And the Circus Maximus really seemed best viewed from the top of the hill, since now it’s just a depression in the earth. One yearns for Chuck Heston & Stephen Boyd to go at it one last time.

Then it got cloudy and cold and the next theme (too hot or too cold, alternatingly) came into play. Went to the Colosseum and got chewed out for not having exact change. It was very impressive but no one could tell me, since tour guides never know the things I don't, whether the level surface covering the "seats" is dirt still filling them in, or the seats themselves having dissolved over time. The construction of all those stairs up and down and arches was quite impressive, the more so since it would probably all still be standing if it hadn’t been torn down for parts in earlier centuries. In that sense it, and the Forum, were like an auto graveyard of stripped chasses. Fortunately there's a metro stop there as I had taken the longest route to find the entrance and walked all the way around it. On the way back (losing L20,000 lire from my pocket, my only loss) I stopped at the Spanish Plaza (getting off the metro right at the little house used by Bertolucci in that movie a few years back about the English expatriot who falls in love with his African maid) and went into Prada, only to be told they don't stock my size. Well, there goes that idea.

I got my dusty self back to the hotel and for dinner I decided to hunt down Piazza Navona but didn't take a map, just put on a coat and got off at the wrong bus stop. I ended up circling it (all the way to the river) for about an hour before I broke down and entered the Trattoria di Gino & Pietro for dinner. At last, no tourists, only locals. I ordered in Italian and after I ordered wine, the waiter asked essentially "and what else to drink?" And when I made it clear that (a) I didn't understand, and once I did (b) I didn't want water, his manner grew icy. So I ordered the water but he never thawed and I felt miserable. The food was fabulous, but whether he thought I was there to get drunk, or I was cheap, or didn't know Italian well enough to suit him, I don't know. In a slightly drunk and depressed state I then found Navona, which is like Venice Beach out here: a tourist circus. The fountains were lovely but the crowd horrifying, especially the people who imitate statues and want you to pay them for it. From there I found the Pantheon, and the Trevi, which was a vicious mob-scene of Americans. While extracting myself from the crowd I heard this worried middle-aged tour guide tell her client (Boston accent) "Alright, go down, take a picture, throw yer coin and come right back." I shuddered at everything expressed in that sentence, kept my coinage for lighting church apses and wandered back to my room. I never took the opportunity to try back at another time to see the “chute” and various popes’ parts, nor did I remember to go find the Capuchin crypt made of bones. Granted, I grew up with an obsession for horror movies, but in real life one can only take so many body parts before it starts to affect your appetite :o).

I had another dream, in which I was being chased, but outwitting, both the mafia and someone else trying to get me, and it involved running around various back alleys of Rome and eventually sliding down this long stone chute into the kitchen of a Chinese restaurant by the Tiber, and there was a little park with statues and fountains and hanging tea lights, and eventually the Pope pardoned the criminals and I met them in a church and shared my feelings about what it feels like to be in fear for you life, and we all wept. It was SO GROSS. The next morning, Saturday 5/5, the heavy curtains made the room so dark, and I was culture-shocked and felt thoroughly alone and rejected, so I slept in as a sort of fuck-you to Rome. "I'm not going to chase around, I'm going to do things my way." The maids didn't like that and began knocking and cursing about noon. Then the front desk called to roust me. I showered quickly and rushed out to get the shoe-rejection overwith. Having no L1000 notes, I left two L500 coins for the maid's tip. This was still there when I returned that evening, and I had no idea how to interpret THAT.

Also, perhaps it wasn't there when you were, but there's a Planet Hollywood two doors down from the Lugano. That no one needs but the blinking lights helped guide me back to my hotel one night. Anyway, shoe shopping on the Via Condotti and environs went better than I expected after the Prada brush-off. Nothing at Gucci, Ferragamo, Dolce or Bally (the nice Bally man suggested I'd have better luck in Milan or Florence): who knew short Italians had such big manly feet? I should have known, given their reputation. “Trainers” like those retro-bowling shoes I have that everyone gives me a hard time about are everywhere; had I brought them I would have fit right in. But I did find exactly the boots I wanted (brown, square toe) at of all places Versace; their MS Windows program for the VAT Tax Free program crashed the first time they tried to use it so it took half an hour to get out of the store but I steeled myself and bought nothing else. Then I found a charming pair of square-toed black oxfords at Cesare Paciotti with their trademark minimalist wing-tip thing which was more than I dared hope, had a fabulous pork chop at the Ristorante di Rampa (beneath some of the Spanish Steps which are always covered with people just sitting there most unpicturesquely) and rushed back to the hotel, getting lost AGAIN, in an increasing downpour that finally drove me to buy an umbrella. I rested and dried off and then thought for a minute, what to do? Answer: Palazzo Barberini is right around the corner!

The front was by Bernini and just lovely, though the sides, which are floodlit at night as well, make it looked like a gigantic haunted house, so it would help if they could at least replace the slats in the shutters and maybe clean it up a little. So I went and saw what they had, which lacked all Caravaggios: it seems exhibits in London and Tokyo had raided much of Rome of these and other paintings, but Rome never sent the best ones. The Judith dicing up Holofernes was gone for restoration, and the Narcissus was out on loan. They had just completed a restoration of Raphael's La Fornarina which was perfectly lovely, and I bought tickets the next day for the Gallery Borghese (good thing too). This is my first exposure, I believe, the strange Piero di Cosimo, whom I loved, and they had a couple of Sodoma’s too, his charming Mystical Marriage of St Catherine (not the one featured this season in “The Sopranos”). The ceilings were marvels. There was also a statue of his mistress by Canova, here I think, or at Borghese, and I subsequently noted that every woman post-Canova looked just like her. When I left, there was some meeting going on at the Palazzo and the drive was lined with flaming luminaires, rather like Kubrick's "Eyes Wide Shut." The Palazzo is the headquarters for some nationalist society whose name was ominously fascistic, though now I’ve conveniently forgotten what it is. On the way back I tried to stop in the little church where Bernini's Ecstacy of St Theresa was, but they were holding a service and I could only get a distant glimpse.

Note: binoculars only work if the lighting is good. But I love the bits of ancient history that keep popping up, such as that the Via Condotti is so named because it used to be the conduit for someone’s baths. Which are probably still down there. That night I again put on my good coat and my new Versace boots and thought I'd crash one of the establishments along the Via Veneto, maybe George's or that other dolce-vita place, but before I'd gone more than a few steps this tiny little husker came up, showed me a business card in his palm proving he was an entrepreneur, and said he'd be my guide. So I thought I'd see where this adventure led. Not my best move. Apparently being well-dressed doesn’t get you better service, it just makes you a clearer mark. He led me far into the neighborhood I almost stayed in, to an empty red-light mirrored black-and-gold piano bar called "Paris Bar." There was an amazon bartender and two women in a conversation pit. Michaele (my guide) stayed outside, said they could bring me food. I ordered a drink. "Can you make a Manhattan?" No. "How about a Martini?" Yes. She put ice in a glass, poured Martini dry vermouth over it, and handed it to me. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the two women toast and one of them plopped her perfumed blond self down next to me to strike up a conversation. Her name had too many syllables though she spoke English well enough. She asked me to buy her a drink. I hesitated. The bartender pushed a drink card at me, showing the cost of drinks. The one I was enjoying cost L20,000 (ten bucks to you and me). I explained I was gay. The whore said "we don't have to have sexual relations." I explained I'd really been looking for a place to eat and fled. Michaele was still outside and guided me again to yet another bar, this one with a Hells Angel bouncer outside. "Mangio," I enunciated. "I want to eat." So then he guided me back to George's but steered me away from all that touristy nonsense to the restaurant across the street, the Ristorante Caruso, reknowned for its fish. He left me in the lobby.

"Do you have a reservation?" No. She goes to check and returns to guide me into a nearly empty restaurant. She sits me at what must be the worst seat in the place, against a wall that has a direct sightline down the hall to the kitchen. I tried to reject the bread but the waiter explained it's on the service anyway. Second thoughts about being there enfolded me and I wanted to leave but I hadn't any small bills to cover the bread, so I stayed. The food was pricey but excellent; I had turbot and remembered why I dislike turbot, but it was well prepared, as was everything else. The Maitress d' kept the waiters running like it was the 2nd act of a road show "Hello Dolly!" and while mine was sweet, there was a younger, taller, thinner one who didn't like working there at all so I flirted with him and eventually he flirted back. That saved the evening. Two hours later I emerged and there was Michaele! Had he waited for me the whole time? I gave him a firm brush-off and said I had to go sleep, I had tickets for the morning, and walked back to the Veneto to follow it's course past the sycamores and grandly lit grand hotels to the gateway in the Aurelian wall that led to the park. There I saw another solitary man sitting sourly over coffee on the sidewalk and almost wanted to approach him and ask if he was having quite as much fun as I, but thought better of it. Half a dozen huskers then came at me to guide me to nightspots and I swatted them all away and bought a new phrasebook, thinking I'd lost my best one at the Trattoria di Hostility and Zenophobia the previous night (I'd just misplaced it and found it later).

The next morning (Sunday, 5/6) I awoke and dressed for the heat, thinking the cold marine layer would burn off. Didn't. Froze my ass off in Villa Borghese, going to the gallery there, which was well-curated but poorly run. One Caravaggio (boy with fruit) was gone to but the ailing Bacchus, sad old St John the B & St Jerome, and David with Goliath's head were still there. (In my last email I thought these were at P. Barberini but I was wrong.) Also, I forgot about the altarpiece with St. Anne as a crone and Mary & Jesus crushing the snake’s head. Quite a mob scene. Apart from the splendid walls and ceilings and overheard tourguide comments about how the Borghese popes stole various artworks, I was floored by the Bernini statues: first the David, then Apollo and Daphne, and finally Pluto and Proserpine. I went around and stared at them again, at length, astonished. The plasticity of the marble was simply amazing, the leaves and skin and horror of the Daphne were thrilling, as was the entire composition, and the hard brutish muscularity of Pluto contrasted with the twisting softness of Proserpine, his hands pressing deep into her skin, was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It’s almost like he invented the art (apologies to Michelangelo…). Belatedly, due to misplaced signage, I found a way up to the second floor picture gallery, where the time limit for viewing is rigorously enforced, and I found my hunted Sodomas only at the last minute. Also up there was the Correggio “Danae,” totally blissed out by the gold raining into her lap, and the Titian “Sacred and Profane Love” which I found most striking, and a good model to view the other paintings on that theme in the week following. Oh, and the Egyptian room was very fun and made me want one. Or at least temples to Isis and Serapis in MY yard.

I changed into something warmer and then bused/walked to the Pantheon, passing the excavated massive columns of Hadrian's temple that had been subsumed into the walls of the stock exchange. I stopped by Palazzo Guistiniani but they were sold out for the day, so I bought a ticket for the next day. I went to the Pantheon, which was lovely but less soul-shaking than Bernini, and was sad they turned it into a church and then defaced the a portion of the walls with a Renaissance colonnade. I did finally understand the internal buttressing of imbedding arches into the brickwork. And then I think this was the day I decided to church it. Went to Sopra Minerva, loving Bernini's elephant and the blue gothic ceiling and mourning the bronze breechclout they covered Jesus' cock and balls with (you could still see the base of them from the side) and admiring the statue nonetheless. I never found the big foot that’s just sitting somewhere. Walked back through the Imperial forums, which I had missed the day before, finally seeing Trajan’s magnificent column and buying a little book that shows artist’s views of the original temples that you can superimpose over photos of the ruins, but bypassed Trajan’s Markets because I couldn’t figure out the route to take to get into them, then wound up Via Cavour, from which I could find the church with Moses in it, San Pietri in Vincoli, but again misread the map and took the longest route, my knee really beginning to sing. I passed a cute restaurant full of gay people on Via Cavour (OR SO I THOUGHT) and decided to come back that night. The church, however, was closed until 4pm, and Moses had been draped with a tarp since April anyway since that whole part of the church was covered with scaffolding. They could have put this sign at the bottom of the hill. I decided not to go in just to see St Peter’s chains, which are no doubt 9th century at best.

From there I wound my way through the little park covering the Domus Aurea (Parco Oppia). A quaint, quiet little neighborhood led circuitously to down to San Clemente, which was too charming for words. The main church is sweet, the medieval church below it more interesting, especially the frescoes (one dating possibly to the 6th century depicting the horrifying tale of Alexis, meant to be edifying, and a portrait of Mary that they believe might have originally been Theodora while she was yet alive). The Mithraeum below that was by far the best, some of the molded stucco ceiling still being in place, as well as the feeling of being in a Republican-era house. I was sad though that the Mithraic altar was sealed off behind bars, as I wanted to look for traces of bulls’ blood on it. There was a light out on the way out of the Mithraeum, leaving one room of the former house completely dark, which was quite unnerving; I managed to convey the fact to the concessions girl without knowing the word "lightbulb" and she checked her security monitors and saw and thank me. Flush with victory, I then wandered over to the Lateran church/palace with all those oversized awful apostles. It was less impressive than I'd hoped, being the center of so much evil over the centuries. I kind of agree that Borromini did not have the grasp on making the baroque less grotesque than Bernini, who becomes more transcendent daily. The obelisk there really brought home the Egyptian connection with Rome, in terms of raiding it anyway. I took coffee at a gross little place in order to use their filthy seatless bathroom, and while balanced above this portal to hell a woman tried to get in, and protecting my door I lost my balance. Enough said about that.

Though in great (knee) pain I ended up having time to take in Maria Maggiore, which was truly fabulous, the medieval mosaics being so beautiful. The binoculars came in very handy, especially since they were having church there and the front part was blocked off. The gold coffered ceiling was quite lovely. I bought postcards there, mostly featuring the Pope looking either scurrilous or gigantically looming over St. Peter’s like some 50s movie radiation victim. Checking my watch, I had time to take in the little church built into the baths of Diocletian nearby, St. Maria degli Angeli, which really did have quite a bathhouse feel about it, and then ran through the adjacent museum of rubble and tombstones, the highlight of which was a beaten-bronze podium covering honoring Tiberius years before he was emperor. The planetarium was closed, though, and I never made it back to Palazzo Massimo alle Terme or the big water plant filled with marble, or for that matter Tivoli, having by now had my fill of ancient statuary and ruin. Besides, most of the contents of Hadrian’s villa was scattered throughout Rome anyway. I went back to the hotel to shower and change, and rest a moment, put back on the Versace boots and my leather coat and returned to Via Cavour, only to not find the restaurant, but only the wall of the Esquiline. Frustrated I stopped in a little Osteria, Antica Locanda, that seemed good as any, where there were lots of tourists and a very happy, inefficient waiter who preferred the soccer match. Nearby there was a table of French couples, with a clear handsome Alpha Male, his beautiful wife, and Barney & Betty Rubble. He was amazing to watch, sexy and charming and disturbed at any ripples in the balance of power which he wielded over his table, such as the building soccer excitement. At that point I realized all the spray-painted graffiti "Forza Roma" and "Forza Lazio" and something about not seceding were not political slogans but soccer-related. Roma won, at which point the place practically burst into flames. Cars honked in the street and mayhem began.

I went to the Via di Selci to find two gay bars, only to find one, the "oldest" in Rome, Hangar. Hunky/surly/friendly bouncer. Paid my admission to a screaming US expatriate queen whom I suspected having known twenty years ago, but didn't follow up. The place was full and filled up more, but like the US, no one was interested in me. A group at one point said something I understood and I laughed, they noticed and asked something and I thought they were going to invite me over. They didn't once they realized I didn't understand. I finished my beer and went back to the street, finally abandoning the one fantasy of meeting some interesting Roman who was interested in me, if only for conversation. I walked back to the hotel since the trains had stopped and a taxi was impossible as crowds had rallied in support of Roma and were marching, singing, down Via del Corso and upturning trash cans. Thank god they won. Me? I kept thinking of Stendhal, that other immensely talented, listless and feckless young man... I never made it down to the Baths of Caracalla or the Appian Way, a long cobbled walk being now the last thing I wanted, and I have purposely left out any mention of the awful monument to Vittorio Emanuele that dominates the Capitol, which had been cleaned for the Jubilee to make it extra-visible.

Monday I slept in a little bit, and did something, but what? I think I went straight from Piazza Venezia, the standard bus transfer point, to Gesu, but there was again a service so I only got the merest glimpse of gaudy shrine to Ignatius. But again the ceiling was rather overwhelmingly “troppo” since the frescoes are mounted literally 3-D. I said a silent anathema to all the evil Jesuits and stopped by the Republican-era temples, the Area Sacra along Largo Torre di Argentina. Again, all the stray cats lounging on the monuments is quite cute (as well as sad, yes; but they were well fed and rather fat & lazy, for strays). It was again thrilling to think I was so close to where Julius C was murdered, though now the spot is buried under a dry cleaner. I ended up back at Piazza Navona, which was suitably calmed down for a drizzly day. Agnes in Agony was closed so I went to San Luigi to look at the Caravaggios of St Matthew; the MGG said the conversion of Paul (was that there or somewhere else) "should have been sublime but the light illuminates too much of the horse" or some similar bullshit. I believe highlighting the horse was the point. But then I don't publish guides, or am French. (Sorry, I was unclear: I meant the light Caravaggio painted, that illuminates the horse’s ass, not the lighting in the chapel itself, which was pretty good around Rome, except in the larger spaces.) The church was crawling with French and I'd forgotten how truly awful they smell. How do you go through Paris without having those little pots of stuff you rub under your nose prior to an autopsy? There were some Domenichino frescoes there too which I liked, he was another surprise.

Then to Palazzo Guistiniani for the huge exhibit there. Most of the walls had been covered with faux-walls and ceilings so little of the Palazzo itself was visible, but they did let us into one huge room of crumbling frescoes. Among the statuary reassembled was the Risen Christ reputed to be Michelangelo's first version for Sopra Minerva, the one with the flaw in the face, on loan from the Louvre (not loin-clothed like Tarzan). It was really beautiful, just sitting in a niche in the stairway up to the first floor. A number of famous paintings greeted me, which I'll have to go into later, but among the striking ones were Caravaggio's "Amor Vincit" with the shockingly adorable little boy. (No, you didn’t see it in Rome, Berlin or Austria, I think: hardly any of these were still in Rome, they were collected from all over the globe, even Florida!) Also Caravaggio's portrait of Thomas doubting the resurrection, shoving his finger into Christ's side-flap. The colors and arrangement of figures is so beautiful and anti-mannerist, I was drawn over and over to it. I bought souvenirs (and again, need your address, if you don't mind giving it to me; I promise I'm not crazy, in spite of what you've read), including that huge heavy catalogue that was murder dragging around but which I thought I'd never find again. As for Caravaggio, from what I remember of that dreadful Derek Jarman film, plus the bio bits the guides fill in, I find him rather compelling; but then I’m drawn egotistically to talented profligates with temperament problems who have contradictory yearnings towards transcendence and beauty yet ago against the trends of the times. But maybe I’m projecting :o).

Afterwards I returned to P. Navona for an early lunch, with again a very cute but married waiter. Had gelato at Tre Scalini, and it was good but not rave-good. I wandered due north and found myself staring north up an avenue to a truly hideous baroque thing that turned out to be the Justice ministry across the Tiber. I walked down the Tiber on the far side to the fort that used to be Hadrian's tomb, Castel San Angelo, and then decided what the hell, let's go to St Peter's. So I walked over there in a light drizzle and walked around the Piazza with all the barricades and the Pope’s gigantic stage built onto the steps, and then inside the Basilica. The glass protecting the Pieta closes off the entire chapel, so you really can’t see anything in person, and photos are much better, sadly. You certainly can’t check it out from the sides. I also had trouble figuring out what the MGG was talking about in terms of the problems posed to Bernini in uniting the Michelangelo portion with the Maderno extension. It all looked find to me, but maybe that’s because “problem solved.” The Giotto fresco on the porch was really beautiful, and the school children completely bored. I wanted to find a guard to bribe to let me see the Bernini staircases but none presented. About Bernini's Baldequin: apart from the insane travesty of having (possibly) melted down Jupiter for it, the MGG mentioned that at the time it was considered in bad taste. I thought, "How can anything so big be in bad taste?" The tomb beneath is simply gross. St Peter's Chair was more interesting, as it seems to float like a ouija board's planchette on the saint's fingers. But I also saw how the Renaissance improved upon the Gothic (verified in Florence) through unity of scale: it's big, but it doesn't look as big inside as it really is. Which, in a sense, makes you bigger than you are. It was truly remarkable to read the measurements of things and find out they were really twice as big as they looked. I didn’t get into the Sacristy however, and saved the climb for a sunny day, and decided against going through the gardens as I’d only think with sadness of Nero’s circus.

From there I took the bus home. On the way, I saw two dogs of vastly different sizes fucking in the courtyard at Palazzo Doria Pamphilij and realized I really had to get there. But not tonight. That night I wandered into another alley behind the hotel and ate at the Hosteria al vero all'Amatriciana (so naturally I had some spaghetti all’amatriciana, which was great), which was very local and charming and lonely. There was a cute businessman having dinner next to me with his less-cute friend, and the way his face light up when he got some flaming ice-cream desert was adorable. I went back to sleep so I could get up early for the Vatican. Tuesday (5/7) I got in line for the Vatican at 7:30am (it opened at 8:45am, at which time a French couple crashed the line and pretended to read their guides and not hear all the passive-aggressive comments around them, but since no one would confront them I just made sure they were behind me), meeting with a guy named Tony from Jersey who reminded me a lot of a straight, dumpier version of my late friend Harry (of Hackensack), who was there with his father, a crusty old guy whom Tony confided was like a child. "Watch yourself crossing the street." The Vatican museums are really poorly laid out and curated, in fact I'd say Rome itself is poorly curated, but I saw most of the things I wanted to before exhaustion and hunger drove me out. The Sistine chapel is strangely shaped differently than I imagined: I thought it would be lower and longer. I rushed there first so was able to see it and really work it over before it filled up. Certainly the most tasteful and moving of the Judgments I'd seen. The walls were wonderful too, particularly the Botticellis, though I had realized by this point how dominated by Lippo Lippi Botticelli had been in his early career. All those faces I've always thought of a Botticellian are in fact Lippi's creation. But still.

The Vatican is poorly arranged and to get around I was cycled through the increasingly packed Sistine Chapel twice after I’d already spent time there. The Vatican has some serious issues with stairways and in fact, all roads led through the SC. It was very homo-erotic, especially compared with the Dantean Last Judgment at the Duomo, which was very Dario Argento (whose oeuvre, I realize, you may not be familiar with, but he took the “slasher” movie in the 80s to bizarre and nonsensical level that remains compelling, in its way). Certainly the Vatican seems to have cornered the market for busts and statues with noses. I was thankful for all the Antinooses as well. Hard to know what the boy really looked like. But all the various Herculi and especially the Laocoon were immensely enjoyable. I got very confused trying to tell which of the various torsi was the Belvedere Torso, which of the various Apollo’s was the Belvedere Apollo, but then decided to enjoy them all. Finally figured out the torso, at least, which was very impressive. In the room of the Animals I enjoyed the statue of Mithras as well, following up on my pagan theme. The Raphael rooms were very interesting, and I liked the Pine Cone. I mailed the postcards there, not realizing I needed two huge stamps that covered most of the back side of the cards (well, not quite, but I did have to rewrite a few of them) and then hoped they’d arrive given the things I said about the Pope on them. All jests in good humor, of course. I just couldn’t see everything, though, and didn’t want to try, so left out the Egyptians and Etruscans. The Pinacoteca was well arranged, so you could work your way chronologically from the early Gothic through to some really execrable modern Christian things (which you were forced to go through, almost as a form of indoctrination), but especially like Caravaggio’s Deposition, for the anti-Mannerist figuring and colors. The Leonardo room with his St Jerome was closed, entirely, to the consternation of many. Also, the differences between the different regions/schools were well represented, as at the Uffizi later, and you could really appreciate the difference between the Venetians and the Fiorentines. Funny though, no Sodoma’s out on display, whereas everyone else had at least one...

I think this is where Helena’s sarcophagus is, the gigantic porphyry box covered with war scenes. Again, the question is posed: is she still inside? The modern (dare I say Fascist?) 1932 spiral ramp was harder to go down than come up. I had some quick pizza slices and then climbed up to the Lantern but it was kind of a hazy day so you couldn't see very far outside the city. Quite a stunning achievement, the dome, though my pants didn't breath as well as I'd hoped. I liked seeing the way the outside of the inner dome was originally a series of steps before it was covered with brown subway tiles. The part where the path constricts and tilts 45 degrees to the side was dizzying, hundreds of feet in the air, above nothing at all, and held up by tons of leaning stone. I had to wonder: how did they build the roof strong enough to support all these tourists traipsing around on it? Did they know? I do like the idea, though, visible on descent, of erecting a memorial to yourself for having climbed it. On the way home I tried to find the Dario Argento Museum of Horror, which is north of the Vatican and purported to recreate scenes and effects from classic Argento horror films, but discovered it simply was part of a horror-toy & memorabilia store, and was closed for siesta. I debated the wisdom of waiting for it to open, wondering how cheesy it could be, and decided to have a snack and walk over to Popolo. The sign at the cafe advertised gelato so I tried to get some but the guy at the register insisted they had none, so I just got espresso and rested on the sidewalk, enjoying the sleepy suburban area. This was as much of Trastevere as I got to, never getting to the Janiculum area.

The main church at Piazza del Popolo, Santa Maria del Popolo, was falling to pieces but had some Caravaggios and was worth it. There the lighting wasn’t coin-operated, but I donated anyway. This is where the Caravaggio Conversion of St Paul is, along with the Crucifixion of Peter, again focusing on a large ass. The city gate in the massive Aurelian wall there was kind of fun and I briefly imagined arriving by coach from Vienna with Stendhal and Helena Bonham Carter but I was so tired I took the Metro home and had a quick nap before dressing for the evening. That night was Eugene Onegin. The subway was too crowded but I could walk easily past the front of Palazzo Barberini, seeing the front gate with the gigantic male caryatids on the stone posts, to the opera house (an eyesore that resembles the main terminal of the Long Beach airport) to get my ticket, and the one for the next night, and have a quick dinner with the Germans and Russians at a Chinese restaurant, where the curry was clearly home-made and very tastey; it wasn’t US Chinese food either, not even US “authentic” food. Onegin was opening night and quite an extravaganza in a stiflingly hot tiny-seated balcony. The program alone is a riot, a small periodical filled with everything except bios of the singers. Next to me was a sweet Japanese man named Ouichi who worked in Hong Kong, had just been married 10 days before but his bride had to return to Japan (schoolteacher) and couldn't take vacation so he came to Italy alone... instead of spending the time with her. He laughed charmingly about his conspiracy since his co-workers thought he had in fact gone to visit her. He knew nothing about the opera and couldn't read the subtitles so I tried to fill him in. I tried valiantly to find out where he was staying but he resisted my overtures and was leaving the next day to Florence anyway. The intermissions are rigorously enforced (20 minutes!) and we were out at 12:10pm on the dot. Mirella Freni sang Tat’jana and apart from the cognitive dissonance of seeing a huge old woman being "forced to bed" by a maid half her age and size, she was quite wonderful and the crowd loved her. Apparently she has a cult in Rome, I heard somewhere. I wept during her big first-act aria. It was really lovely. Guiseppe Sabbatini sang Lenskij. The name means nothing to me though he was very fine.

The next day I slept in a little bit and went down to Doria Pamphilij, but was so exhausted I only saw the important pieces and left (just what I said I wouldn't do). I did stop to greet the previously fucking dogs, who were considered guard dogs but very happy to see me. The first painting you see walking in is the massive Sodoma St Sebastian, in serious need of restoration. It looked almost like it’d been patched, and was really filthy, but it’s one of his best works. A number of rooms were closed, including the ones with the Caravaggio Rest on the Flight to Egypt, but some of the works had been brought out of the other rooms and set out for us, like Titian’s Salome, so we could enjoy again his jewel work. The ancient bronze boar there was cool too. One gets tired of all the winged putti heads everywhere, and at someplace I saw a late Raphael Coronation of Mary that made it amply clear where most bad 19th/20th century catholic devotional art came from. The Raphael was great, but it inspired way too many knockoffs. I then went back to the room to nap a bit but they still hadn't cleaned up, so after an hour they uprooted me again. I ate at the first of the pavilions on the Via V., the Conte di Galluccia, which was the best meal I had, oysters as big as a baby’s leg. A businessman came in with his two sons, the elder being less handsome than the younger, who was adorable and had a nervous leg that never stopped bouncing, and who left his fanny pack on the table, but food and champagne and eventually the proprietress arrived all without ordering so I imagine it’s a regular thing, but boy that younger one was cute, dark hair and blue eyes. It was also the most expensive meal (US$75) but better than anything I’ve paid more to eat here. I wound up back at the shopping district for one last plunge. Off a side street I found Branchini Calzoleria, where I found the MOST FABULOUS BOOTS ever. The saleswoman didn't speak any English but we got along very well. Alas, she had nothing blue for me, but I left happy and wanting to write the main story in Bologna to see how difficult it would be; they are the brightest shade of cerulean imaginable. Then I went into Valentino where a clerk spoke English, tried to sell me the store (draping me in a green pashamina and pulling out shirts) and did sell me a pair of sandals that are only a size too big but they're sandals so it doesn't matter.

That night I bought tickets for Pompei at Termini and had a quick pizza and then the modern opera What Price Confidence? at the National Theater, with about 50 other people (very LA, that), preceded by some Krenek songs based on Goethe and Rilke texts. The opera was cute, two couples & adultery, and blessedly one-act. The baritone, an New Yorker named Peter Clark, was very handsome. The other New York-trained Californian in the cast was Jeannie Im, and there was a Vermont gal named Jessie Raven. The cast was rounded out by German Michael Kurz, and a cute young pianist with the adorable name of Fritz Schwinghammer. The next morning (Thursday 5/10) I got up just in time to get the train to Naples. Then ensued a comedy of errors as I did not know the Pompei train was the train to Consenza, so I had to take the next train, an hour later. This train then stopped on the track between the last station and Pompei for some time while a drama ensued down on the tracks with a young woman. By the time we got there, I had 3.5 hours to spend and gladly took the taxi to the ruins. Lots of stray dogs needing love and a bath around there. I hit the Villa of the Mysteries (having trouble finding the mysteries as it turned out, but did, really lovely) and took in the two fora, a few of the houses, the bordello ("no children under 10"), the big theater and the arena. Also saw the garden where they kept some of the plaster casts of the huddled dead, with crawling choking babies, it was very emotional in the stillness of the vineyard there. Fortunately I beat a detachment of French schoolchildren who were racing there to see “the dead people.” I saw one of the smaller bath complexes, and of course lots of the bars that were everywhere, and bakeries, some mosaics I never got to seeing up close but I did find the Poet’s house with the Cave Canem in the doorway, and the boar hunt mosaic. Also, of COURSE, the house of the Vetii with the Priapic fresco at the doorway and the statue hidden in the back room, along with other sexual scenes. The impact of the streets with the stepping stones across them and all the houses and fountains and grafitti is quite overwhelming. I can’t see why James Cameron hasn’t rebuilt it in Mexican (to 9/10s scale, of course) to remake “The Last Days.” Which suddenly seemed like a thrilling idea, to use maybe a better story but a replica of the exact town layout and buildings.

Then: there were no taxis at the exit waiting to take me back, I had a bum knee and had no idea where the train station was. I went limping along, stopped at a hotel ("Hotel dei Amici") and the young woman confirmed I was on the right track. I got to the train station moments before the train, and who should sit down across from me but a gaunt man who kept trying to catch my eye and who's body said either "heroin" or "syphilis" but I couldn't quite tell. I knew I had one minute to change trains at one of the stations, but none of the stations on the line were the one the machine that sold me my ticket told me about, so I felt very guilty when the gaunt man advised me in a friendly tone that if I wanted to go to Napoli I had to change trains at this station. On the new train an extraordinarily cute, dangerously stoned young man shambled through begging for change. I took pity on him because he was so cute and so fucked up so I gave him my smallest change (which was good because I ended up needing the larger change later, I forgot now why) and he practically passed out when he dropped it, bent down to pick it up and just stayed there, his dirty head bouncing with the train against my knee. Later, when he'd forced himself to keep begging despite his adorable little body's desire to rest, and missed his stop, he tried to climb out the window but was dissuaded, and wandered off to another car.

At Naples I couldn't find anyone to verify that the train to Milan was really the train to Rome and it left before I could. So I had to take the slow train, 1.5 hours instead of 90 minutes, stopping everywhere as the sun prettily set over the sweet boring countryside, the buildings in which made me realize why everyone in LA is painting their "Mediterranean" house or duplex that alarming shade of terra cotta. Fortunately the Italians aren't sticklers for having a ticket for that exact train, as long as you have one. Many crazy and/or smelly people inhabit this train, and after changing seats twice I ended up a couple rows from an African (they seem so much more exotic there) speaking French into his cellphone. He screamed "Idiot!" and hung up, and the fumed and vented "Idiot!" like a lower slope of Vesuvio for the rest of the trip, and I was afraid to move again until we finally dragged into Rome. I crawled to my hotel, changed and had one last meal at a touristy but good place on the Via Sistina that I'd passed a number of times. The proprietress had the tired, dowdy but sharp look of an Ann-Margret character and the most sordid laugh I've ever heard, a deep husky smoke-and-liquor huffing sound like the last freight out of Erie. She laughed alot as she smoked and did accounts at the table next to me. She was very sweet when I left too. The desk clerks at Lugano are a variable experience and the one the morning I checked out (Friday 5/11) figured me for no tip so got rid of me without so much as a "buon viaggio." So he got no tip. I took a cab to Termini and missed my train to Florence because it was really going to Milan AGAIN. But there was another one in an hour... but it was packed so there was no hope of getting something like my assigned seat in first class. Still, it was uneventful and I still had plenty of time. The cab in Florence took me on a tour of the entire city to go the four or five blocks to my hotel, the glorious and bidet-ed Pensione Pendini off the Piazza della Repubblica. They had a porter carry my bags and were all very sweet. They also gave me a mouse pad with Bott’s Birth of Venus and their 3 hotels’ addresses on it as a gift for reserving over the internet. I’m using it now.

My first site of the Duomo and Campanile made me want to take bites out of them, they were so white and green clean! (In fact, the back of the Duomo was scaffolded and the north side has not yet been cleaned.) I ate someplace where the owner agreed to seat me "da solo" if I agreed to be out in an hour or an hour and five minutes. I did, it was fine, I had things to do. The food was good. I wandered down to the Piazza della Signoria, checked out the statuary. Cellini’s Perseus was interesting, especially as the pictures all downplay the bronze blood spurting from Medusa’s neck. But the Rape of the Sabines was enclosed for restoration, as were a few others. And the copy of David is such a bad copy one wonders if the artist had seen the original or perhaps just a child’s sketch. What pleased me most was all the little iron hopes stuck into the wall of the Palazzo V: the upright portions had little faces. I thought that was cute by my guide book (the evil DK guide, I hadn’t an MGG for Florence) didn’t say anything about them. Hitching posts? And then I crossed the Ponte Vecchio. For some reason, seeing it only from the one side in pictures and knowing about the two stories, I had the impression that it was covered, that the Medici pathway completely covered the bridge so all the jewelry shops were like an indoor mall. It was a pleasant surprise. I had reservations for the Uffizi (that afternoon) and the Accademia (Sunday a.m.) but not the Pitti Palace, so I walked over to inquire, but was informed there was no line ever. So I wandered back, lurked around the Piazza again and then went through the Uffizi, buying a guide which was almost helpful. Many marvelous things but I have to admit, a lovely as the Botticelli images are in Venus & Primavera, I find the composition... clunky. Sorry. But I understand their importance as “firsts.” His Adoration of the Magi, with all the Medicis in it, was much better, to my eye, a more balanced composition. Michelangelo’s Holy Family was even more beautiful than I expected, as was Titian’s Venus of Urbino. The Leonardo Annunciation had been recently restored to show the forward door jamb to the side of Mary, it was really quite incredible. Certainly the best angel's wings I've ever seen as well as the contrasting themes of angel-divine/nature and human/construction in the placement of the figures. The Lippo Lippi Madonna where baby Jesus looks like Edward G Robinson and she has this gossamer headdress was amazing as well. I always enjoy Rubens’ portraits, the women seem so saucy.

That evening I had a ticket to “Il trovatore,” first production of the 64th Maggio Musicale, though tonight it was largely the second cast. I ate panini at a little French bar nearby waiting for the box to open, then waited in a long line and fell in love with a large, startlingly handsome Frenchman picking up tickets for him and a friend; he didn't know any Italian so I guessed he was in town on business. They have separate entrances for the orchestra and the balcony/gallery seats so it wasn't until after the first intermission I could get a program and remind myself the insanity that had brought us plotwise to that point. My impression of the Old Gypsy Witch as Medea wasn't far off. Funny how I've seen this before, read the synopsis again before leaving and still couldn't remember it, particularly since it's so ludicrous even by opera standards. All it needs is a hunchback and elephants. At that intermission I also saw an obviously gay handsome Chelsea/Greenwich guy of Italian extraction with his Fiorentine friend but again, couldn't catch his eye. But he was wearing a coat with enormous shoulder pads, confirming what I read that big shoulders, wide belts and pointy shoes are back with the Bushes. So I wandered to the Arno and watched the bridges at night. The singing was really grand, even if the soprano Leonora, Ana Maria Sanchez, was a mountain of blue satin and the tenor Manrico, Piero Guiliacci, so fat below his belt he looked like an animated Renaissance Fair Leather Goblet once they put him in leather pants for the finale. Azucena was sung by the Russian, Tatiana Gorbunova, and Luna was sung by Carlo Guelfi, a name I somewhat dimly recall. I didn’t mind the second cast since I was unfamiliar with the first cast (Fiorenza Cedolins singing Leonora, Larissa Diadkova for Azucena—some Russian thing with that part, I guess—and Robert Alagna for Manrico). Of course Zubin Mehta was beloved, being resident there, as he was in Los Angeles when I remember his manly conducting style from my salad days (that not being a trite cliché since all I could afford to eat was iceberg lettuce using a lemon for “dressing).

The next morning I woke early enough to get breakfast, better than Lugano, and took off for the Pitti Palace. On the way I stopped at Chiese del Carmine to weep over the Masaccio mosaics, and was impressed too by the faces of Filippino Lippi's contributions. It was a main purpose of my visit to Florence, and just as thrilling as I had hoped. Only the insensible tourists around me were failed to be moved by anything other than its age, or the by whatever “new thing” Masaccio did that they tour guide informed them of, instead of interacting with the sheer, overpowering grief of Adam and especially Eve. I did enjoy the fabric-painting of Masolino too. The Pitti was, well, monumental. I especially freaked over Titian’s Mary Magdalene, the one where she’s looking up and completely covered with hair EXCEPT HER NIPPLES. It was very “X-Files.” What I’ve failed to note before is that I really love the way Titian grew so much darker and more impressionistic in his later career. The more of view the evolution of art, the more I see Impressionism as almost a throwback to something that never quite got started earlier, because it’s all there. Especially in Tintoretto. Of course El Greco goes without saying. I didn’t go through the silver gallery, though, even though there was an exhibit of nouveau/deco jewelry. I had lunch nearby at a good restaurant with a brusque/rude French waiter who got not a good tip. He tried to charm the more obvious tourists but I got the typical suspicion-of-the-single-diner which by now was a hallmark of my experience.

Slightly drunk and a little depressed by this, I wandered through Boboli where the fountains were mostly off, instead offering "treated" water teaming with trout-sized mosquito larvae. It was lovely, sad and lonely. I wandered through the paths hoping to run into the tattooed guy but never did. I played with a cat. It sprinkled. Young couples necked everywhere. The Belvedere was closed and British girls made fun of the Grotto in tones that had made me think, until I turned around, that they were in fact their mothers. I walked back across the river and stopped by Santa Croce, but it was too nuts though I did see Michelangelo’s tomb and wondered about the bones inside so I just went into the cloister and the Pazzi chapel, which was lovely. Beyond lovely, it was perfect. Such proportions, just plainness. I was sorry to miss the Donatello, Giotto & Gaddi work inside Santa Croce but it was simply a madhouse. A French tour guide instructed her flock to close off the wide line so none of us singles could work up in front of them “like the Japanese.” That’s where I got the idea that the Last Judgments depicted tour groups. That evening I decided to follow up a friend's advice and check out Cibreo, but it was become the most popular restaurant in Florence with a line out the door for what I assumed were reservations, and then I got kicked out of the nearby Cibreo Café, so I wandered around trying to find something and wound up at a certified "authentic" Tuscan eatery, the Osteria de' Macci. The food, again, was marvelous, and the service, again, was brusque and crappy, but then they seemed short-handed and crazed from the Cibreo overflow. But still, the perception of being not-wanted put me in no mind to go into either Crisco Bar or the much more lively and nelly Piccolo Cafe, so I just went home. I don’t think I emphasized enough, previously, how much I loved the bidet. I may have to renovate my bathroom.

Sunday morning (5/13) I went to the Accademia which, of course, is a house for the David. I was amazed and stunned by how utterly engineered it is, yet so completely relaxed and natural. Afterwards I went to Casa Buonarotti, which was also very sweet and lovely, particularly the reliefs carved by M. when he was a mere 15-17 years old, but missed my last chance to see the Bargello, which then closed down until Tuesday. I ate at the Trattoria di Pazzi, where Zero Mostel held court and wandered about to make sure everyone was happy, and for once had a good time dining alone. Then I walked over to San Marco but really wasn't prepared for an admission charge, so I bailed on it. I would have liked to have seen the Fra Angelico frescoes but for some reason the money thing just ticked me off. Honestly. Pawn one of those pope’s rings. He never wears them all anyway. :) . Went through the inside of the Duomo. The impression of the Last Judgment is even better once you climb up it since among the people falling into Hell there is a woman grabbing a man by the cock and balls … and he’s uncut. Are these “the Jews”? I also noted that both pathways around the inside of the dome conspire to keep this image as far away from you as possible. Everything else closes down on Sunday so I went shopping again, and found my last pair of shoes (not blue but very pointy) at Cesare Paciotti (again!). The Pucci boutique at Palazzo Pucci was closed as well, but I enjoyed the outside, and especially comparing it to Palazzo Medici Riccardi. A fine way to live.

I had time to kill before dinner and fell prey to temptation, taking in “La Mummia: Il Ritorno” at the Odeon a block away. Had been a little earlier, I could have enjoyed a cocktail in the lobby; quite an improvement over soda and candy, I have to admit. The theater was great, with a wrap-around balcony and glass skylight. The simple dialogue was easy enough to understand, and besides, you really don’t need the words to follow this kind of movie. It was very enjoyable.That night I ate at a wine bar Osteria di Boia (“of the Boar”) which was perfectly wonderful (had wild boar proscuitto which was very salty) and went to Crisco Bar, which was dead. Only a few other trolls came by. I tried to teach the barkeep how to make a Manhattan but he only listened to his friend and so made it with scotch. Again, Piccolo was too giggly for me so I wandered home again.

Monday I overslept and ate a quick breakfast, then rushed through the last few churches: San Lorenzo (what a money machine! 3 separate admissions) where the Michelangelo statues were remarkable, but not as remarkable as the David; still, I loved the modern way he left portions of the stone pure stone, or roughly hewn. Massive scaffolding made viewing the statues at a distance impossible though; they were restoring the central dome. Again, entering the Medici chapel and the Principe as well through the underground tomb with all those relics and, well, tombs was icky. I think the ancient pagans would have heaved at the thought of putting rotting bodies inside temples devoted to the Gods, yet the church just fills itself to the rafters with corpses. I loved Donatello’s big bronze pulpits too. The stairway to the library ceased to reveal it’s innovation to me, but I sat in one of Michelangelo’s desks as was duly chastised. It was wonderful seeing real old glass in the windows too, since Rome had virtually none left. At Santa Maria Novella they had recently restored the Giotto crucifix and Masaccio's Trinity fresco, which was very moving, particularly the splayed legs of the Christ. It also had lovely glass and was the un-proportionate Gothic interior that made me realize anew how beautiful St Peter’s and the other Ren. churches are. Saw the Baptistry (whose skull is that under the altar? A whole skull, and it looks like there’s still skin on it. They won't say), climbed the Duomo (a little redundant after St Pete's but what a view especially of “the Jews” :) ) and then went through the Palazzo Vecchio entirely.

The big room was impressive, especially since nothing in the PV is squared, and there were ample videos detailing bits of history and the laborious construction of the new ceiling that I was too exhausted to appreciate. I loved walking around the top Campanile though, imagining myself a little soldier on watch. Michelangelo’s “Victory” though is just as awkward as the picture suggests; the half-carved quality is fun but the David/Victor’s bent, flexed arm isn’t right at all. And I didn’t get into the secret passageways, as that required more coordination with a guide than I could muster. I bought some cherries but it was just like here, they put the few ripe ones on top. It was the first of the season, and rather tasteless, but still nice to get fresh fruit. Then back across the river to Santo Spirito where I had forgotten was the restored Michelangelo crucifix, which was really shocking in its feminine/young boyness. Couldn't get all around it but again, it was a masterful composition. That night I had my only truly horrible meal, at one of the tourist traps around the Piazza della Repubblica, surrounded by Jerry Seinfeld's parents on all sides. There were inedible chunks of octopus in the seafood salad, the tortellini was in a cream sauce so thick it could have been made yesterday in Santa Monica, and the steak was all gristle. So that was disappointing. Then, my last night, I wandered the back alleys looking for trouble but, as usual, found none.

The next morning I couldn't find a cab and lugged my tonnage back to the train station, caught my train to Rome (or should I say Naples) and then to the airport, where the Italian customs agent at the VAT refund place gave me a hard time about all my shoes. It was a long ride to Chicago in the last row of the plane next to a hygenically-challenged Italian woman and all the toilets that people flushed with the lid up and door open. I ran out of reading material before I got to Chicago so that flight back was long too, though our flight was late getting in and it was a mad dash getting through customs and back on a plane. And now, still decompressing...

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