Saturday, June 18, 2011


Bernini Day

I finally feel comfortable here in Italy. I believe it took a bit of time to develop a system that would optimize the enjoyment of our day by eliminating as much discomfort as possible. We discovered yesterday that almost directly across the street is a supermercato which is deceivingly large. As opposed to paying €4.50 for a Sprite at a restaurant, one can buy a liter and a half for €1.50, which will last you two days. We learned to recycle bottles of powerade we had purchased on our hot day at the Vatican, and fill them with red Fanta which tastes like Hawaiian Punch. Anything to avoid drinking awful tap water. We have been buying our breakfasts and lunches at the market as well which allows us to spend a little more on dinner and still come out under budget.
The weather has improved with each day we stay in Rome. Today it was even cooler and brighter, though the Roman sun had lost none of its remaining in the shade as much as possible was a must. We hopped the 87 bus, which took us on the familiar route past the Victor Emmanuele monument, and toward Termini station. We knew our stop was Nazionale, but what we didnt realize at first was the fact that there are four Nazionale stops on the same street, each with a subname. So we hopped off the bus at the first stop, and ended up walking the length of the street in order to reach the stop we should have gotten off on. It was a happy mistake though, as we were given the opportunity to enjoy the city at our own pace. This is the more metropolitan area of the city, where the streets are wide, busy, and hectic, though still rustic at its core, as modern hair salons share walls with ancient chapels. We made a left on Via Torino, crossed a busy parking lot-piazza, then headed for the corner on the opposite side of the street, where the facade of Santa Maria Della Vittoria was covered for renovation. But it was the inside we were interested in. I can easily say that among all the churches we saw in Rome, this is the most ornate. When we stepped inside the tranquil nave, we were instantly overwhelmed by the sheer ornamentation of the place. Richly decorated fails to describe the very opulent nature of this church. It was awe inspiring. The salmon colored marble columns were edged with stripes of gold, carrying the weight of marble angels carved by Bernini himself, their robes flowing without the need for wind. Every column, arch, vault, and niche was embellished with paint, gold, metalwork and oil paint. The best aspect of the space is that it is literally filled with Bernini's work. Each and every sculpture which clings to the walls and ceiling, big and small, was crafted by his hand. And it shows. It was dim, cool, and quiet. A welcome change from tourist-packed sights. One can feel so much greater a connection with a place when it's seen in the way it is meant to be seen. The experience is much more organic, and you feel as if you belong to it, and it to you. When a place makes an impression upon your heart and memory, it becomes a part of you.
The centerpiece of this chapel is not in the apse but to its left, The Ecstasy of St. Teresa. Bernini embodies the writings of St. Teresa, who experienced a vision of an angel piercing her with a golden arrow, which filled her with both the pain and extreme joy of God's love. It was truly wonderful to finally see the piece in person. We spent nearly an hour there, I missed no opprtunity to sketch the famous piece, and absorbed the tranquility and beauty of the place.
Emerging from the dim quiet of the chapel and into the bright, raucous bustle of the street required a bit of an adjustment, but soon we were heading northwest toward the curving Via Veneto.
Santa Maria della Consezione is a unique place inside and out. The exterior is recognizable by its dual stairways, its chapel by its eerie, smoky humility, and its crypt by the artfully arranged bones of 4000 capuchin monks. One is almost stifled by the musty, earthy scent upon entering the low-ceilinged first chamber, where you make a 'donation' of a single euro to gain admission. Hereafter lie six alcoves upon a joining low passage, each room literally covered in complex designs created by the curving of stained mandibles, ribs, parallel clavicles, shins and finger bones, but mostly vertebrae. Skulls have been stacked neatly in arched arrangements, beside rows of thigh bones. In several chambers, entire skeletons lean lifelessly against the bonds which attempt to hold them upright, clad in draping brown monk robes. Their fleshless grins defy the solemnity of the place yet remind one of their own mortality.
A short visit to this place is all that is needed, but an unforgettable one is guaranteed. We took a deep breath of fresh air once outside, glad to return to the land of the living. Following the curve of Via Veneto, we then crossed a very busy intersection and entered the Borghese gardens. The massive umbrella pines that dotted the expansive lawns provided shade as we headed North up the wide pedestrian-only pavement. Locals out with canine friends abounded, the dog breeds as diverse as the people themselves. We then came upon the villa Borghese. It was bigger than I remembered, a beautiful white structure with a massive porch. We ate an identical lunch in the shady courtyard. The finches there must have been famished, as they went to such great measures as going for the food in your hand even as it was on its way to your mouth.
We gave in to feeding them out of the pure enternainment and at one point, a bird caught a crumb of bruschetta as it was still airborne.
We wrapped up our modest lunch and descended beneath the front stairway to purchase our tickets. The Roma pass covered both of our tickets, so we reluctantly checked our bags and cameras and waited for our 1:00 reservation.
Though the villa Borghese is brimming with great sculpture, it's hard to focus on anything but Bernini's sculptures, which usually occupy the center of each room. Bernini is aptly referred to as the father of the Baroque era. In my eyes, he is arguably the most talented sculptor in history. Michelangelo is indeed a master, but the emotion and movement Bernini brings to his work is unmatched. Bernini captures a single moment in a story as if the figure simply turned to marble in mid-action. The bland expression of previous Davids is traded for extreme concentration in Bernini's version, the unbelievably delicate foliage sprouting from Daphne's fingers hardly seems like marble, and Pluto's hand sinks solidly into Proserpina's thigh as he whisks her away to the underworld. Seeing the 8 Bernini sculptures in the Borghese is worth the trip and reservation (I called it in over the phone then used the Roma pass to get in for free)
We recharged in the peace of the gardens, then headed back the way we had come, made a wrong crossing and ended up following the highway, then turning around again. Within ten minutes we had reached the Spanish Steps and enjoyed the panorama of Roma, then quickly escaped the crush of tourists to find the Trevi Fountain, which was also swarming with the public. We stopped to admire the architecture and toss a coin into the aquamarine water before maneuvering our way through the dense crowds. The crowds at the Pantheon were much more manageable, and we arrived in time to go inside and enjoy the most influential structure in art history. It is simply a massive circular chamber, topped by a huge concrete dome with concave squares to lighten it, and a large circular opening at its center called the oculus. The tombs of both Raphael and Victor Emmanuel rest in the niches.
We returned to Piazza Navona for dinner. We landed a table right on the Piazza, I enjoyed some Italian sausage and some free champagne.
We closed our amazing day with some equally amazing kiwi, passion fruit, and raspberry gelato.

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