Roma!

            I think this blog post has been one of the hardest to motivate myself to write. Maybe it is the jet-lag, maybe it’s because I no longer have hour long bus rides to while away the time, or maybe it’s because I don’t have the perspective of time onto which I can tie a little bow onto my experience. Whatever the case maybe, I have decided to finish strong on this blogging expedition, and hopefully the time between my last post and this one will be forgiven.
            Roma. We arrived in Rome ready for the conclusion of the trip. At least, I was ready. As some of you may know, my sister Emily is getting married on August 11 and I am the maid of honor! Woohooo! Also, my sister Liesel is currently pregnant with her fourth child and she is due in October. It was a funny realization to have at around week 5 in the trip to realize that though I was having a fantastic time, I was beginning to feel sad that I wasn’t able to talk with my sisters as they were going through these big life changes. Also, I guess I was homesick. I think it was due to the fact that so many big transitions were happening to those that I love dearly, and I wasn’t even able to talk with them on the phone (sure, there’s skype, but the connections were always difficult to manage, and the time difference was always a hassle). All in all, I headed into Rome ready to give the final push of energy I had to muster.
            We met our tour guide Iohanna  at the airport, and were bedazzled by her fashionable outfit bedecked in a subtle sequins shirt (almost an oxymoron), black pants, turquoise jacket, and gold jewelry. She certainly looked very chic next to our well-worn clothes that we had been cycling through for the past seven weeks. We boarded our bus and headed off to the church of “St. Paul Outside the Walls”. We then had about an hour-long lecture sitting on the steps. Normally, I think we would’ve been fine with this, but this was week seven of a long, long trip and we were back to those nasty headsets. I think everyone felt exhausted and disinterested, but we did our best to try and stay connected. I think Iohanna recognized our weariness and tried to shorten her lecture (which still turned out to be about an hour-hour and a half). The church was nice, but also tailored for tourists. When I entered the church I was struck by how dark it was. But then, when our tour guide began searching around her purse and pulled out a euro, we learned that the church had created a system by which for 1 euro you could light up a section of the church for a minute or two after which the light would abruptly turn off. There was a coin machine next to the various relics/bits of art in the church and for the small fee you could look at them in light. I was off put by this. While it was a great system for saving energy, the constant turning on and off of lights by tourists took away from the sacredness of the church and made it feel more like a museum rather than a place of worship. We finished up at the church and took a driving tour of Rome during which I slipped in and out of sleep as I listened to Iohanna point out arches, aqueducts, and statues. I was exhausted. I think I went to bed around 9 that night.
            The next day we awoke early, walked to the metra station (located conveniently outside the front door of our hotel), hopped onto the train, and walked to the Vatican.
             We arrived at the Vatican, went through security, and began our tour. The first statue that captivated me was “Laocoon and his Sons”.
The anguish on his face as he realizes that the gods had turned on him and his sons, that they and their entire nation were doomed to destruction, is almost palpable in the statue’s presence. Laocoon was the prophet that warned the Trojans not to receive the Greek wooden horse into their walls. Poseidon, in order to silence Laocoon, sent water snakes after him and his sons. The curve of his torso, the various shadows cast by the taut strain of his ligaments and muscles, the stark contrast between his maturity and his sons youth, every curve, every angle in the stone used to communicate the passion and destruction of the narrative, it was stunning. I could’ve walked round and round that statue all day. I wanted to touch the stone, trace its lines, look deeply into the crinkled features of his face, understand how the form communicated the message. Sadly, my time there was brief and we had to move on.
            The area of the Vatican that we were in was full of statues from various places and times. It was wonderful to walk amidst the living stones, but also a bit numbing. There are many bad/sub-par statues in the world, and some of them were in the Vatican. After a while, the statues ceased to hold much of a narrative, naked man here, curvy woman there, cherub, lion, virgin and child, stork, etc.  After we finished with the statue exhibits we went to a few other halls with huge canvases filled with intricate needlework, they were very nice, but didn’t quite leave an impact.
But then we went to the Sistine Chapel.
            The Sistine Chapel felt unreal. The entire room was packed full of people who, though there were both shushing guards and signs that said “Silence”, were all loudly whispering to one another. Also, while there were signs that said no photography I saw a plethora of people trying to take pictures on the sly from underneath their coats…I wish I had tried that. Though I was pressed in on all sides  I craned my neck and did slow circles on my bit of tile trying to see the grandeur of the hall. It’s funny, all I could think was, “wow, it looks like all of the pictures I’ve seen.” I felt, “I should be awed by this room”, but I didn’t feel much of anything. Seeing the painting of the oracle of Delphi was a treasure though. She is one of my favorite figures on the ceiling; enchanting. Maybe it was just another product of exhaustion taking over, but where I thought that standing in the midst of the chapel was going to be a dazzling experience, I felt underwhelmed.  Maybe my expectations were too high, maybe the aggressive shushing of the guards or the pressing crowd kept me back, but it definitely wasn’t what I was expecting.
            Later on in the day we went to St. Peter’s Basilica and were given free time to walk around. Again, very much a tourist destination. I had been so excited to see Michelangelo’s Pieta, but I was 6 maybe 7ft away from it, surrounded by people and staring at the sculpture through plexi-glass. Unfortunately, the more famous a piece of work becomes, the greater its distance from humanity at large. It no longer can affect you because you cannot see the intimate details of the piece. Half the reason that the Pieta is beautiful is found in the minute details of the Virgin’s face and the emotion of her hands. But, ever since someone tried to shoot the pieta (true story) she’s been relegated to her plexiglass cage.
            Later on in the day we went to the Christian catacombs. Walking into the cool air of the subterranean church that guarded the entrance to the caves was a welcome relief to the sweltering heat of the outside. These catacombs have four levels, the oldest being the first. As the Christians continued to bury their dead in the caves, they began to outgrow their capacity and had to dig deeper into the earth. They ended at the fourth level because they ended up hitting the water table. These tombs were all along the walls of narrow passages, they were shallowly dug into the walls (the deepest maybe being the length of my arm) and rather short length-wise. You have to realize that many of the ancient people were far smaller than us, so while these graves seemed to only be big enough for a pre-pubescent of the modern day, they would have been large enough for an adult in the time of the ancient church. Some of the graves had bones left within them which were fascinating to see! The graves of brothers and sisters in Christ which went on for miles. You had to make sure to stick with the group, because otherwise one could easily get lost in the vast and winding maze of the catacombs.
            We finished at the catacombs, went back to the hotel, ate dinner, and I collapsed onto my bed.
            I awoke the next morning very excited, because this was the last day of lectures, the last day of headsets, the last day on which any sort of mental engagement was going to be required of us! YIPPEE!!! Heading into Holy Lands a week after finals, taking rigorous classes for a week and then taking a final exam, then taking rigorous classes in Israel with three tests, listening to lectures, turning in journals, writing papers, listening to lectures, listening to lectures, and preparing for the final final exam, my brain was feeling friend. But on this day, this beautiful day that was all going to end. I put on my headwrap (which you may notice from photos became a staple in my wardrobe), grabbed my headset, and went off.
            On this day we saw the Coliseum and the Roman forum. It was a very very hot day. I was very very sweaty, and very very tired. But, I did enjoy the lecture she gave on the gladiators, and was glad to sit in the shade for an hour as she spoke. But, by the time we got to the Roman forum (mind you this is after walking around the coliseum for a few hours) I was so checked out. We were sitting in the heat for an hour or so as she lectured, the headset was being awful, and I continued to feel the slow dripping of sweat on my face and down my back as the headset grated continually in my ear. I can tell you that there are few happier moments I have had then when Iohanna said, “Well, that’s it, you can turn your headsets off”. Wonder of wonders! Miracles of Miracles! The demons possessing the tiny white box that had tortured me for so long were finally going to be obliterated. If that thing didn’t cost 100 euros to replace, I would’ve thrown it on the ground and stomped on it with frenzied glee as I laughed manically at its destruction.
            Then the girls and the wives of the professors (Jeanette Lee and Patty Vlachos) went out to lunch. It was a lovely lunch, but the Italian waiters had a way of making you feel very stupid. That was not appreciated. Here I am giving you my money, and you roll your eyes at me when I ask you for tap water. This is not a stupid question my friend, if I don’t have to pay 5 euros for a bottle of water, then I don’t want to. But, other than the condescension of the waiters we had a lovely time. For some reason though, by the time we shoved ourselves onto the bus to get back I had come almost to my wit’s end.
            How do I describe what I was feeling… My brain was fried. I could no longer conceive of listening to another lecture, looking at another statue, thinking about another aspect of church history. I had sensory overload. My feet were tired, my clothes had that stiff dryness that comes from sweat evaporating from cloth, the bus was packed and strangers were squeezed in all around me, a man was breathing on my neck, we were all sticky, and some of them were smelly, and as some girls chatted happily around me I probably looked horribly stoic as I gave them one word replies to their questions. I laugh about it now, because I realize how exhausted I was, but in the moment I think if anyone had tried to engage me in any way, I probably would’ve thrown a hissy fit full of yelling, stomping, and expletives. I quickly extricated myself from the bus when we arrived at our stop, went to my room, took off my nasty clothes, hopped in the shower and let the cool water wash away the dust that felt caked onto my skin. I then laid on my bed and slept for an hour in the soothing darkness of my hotel room.
            When I awoke, I had about an hour before dinner during which I wrote my outline for the essay which composed our final exam. We were allowed one sheet of notebook paper on which we could write bullet points. We went to dinner and then began our final exam. I began to write around 9pm, and finished around 10:30pm. My hand was cramping, but I was SO so so so so very happy when it was finished. At that moment I had successfully completed 10 credit hours of work in seven weeks. I was feeling euphoric. I shoved my essay under the door of my professor’s hotel room and walked away in a state of ecstasy.
            A large group of us went out after we had finished and were greeted by the sounds of celebration. You see, Italy, on that night, had just beaten Germany for a place in the Eurocup final; and Rome was going crazy. Cars were driving by blaring their horns and waving flags, and in response we clapped and yelled “Viva Italia!” We walked around for about an hour looking for gelato when we stumbled upon the huge party happening in the Piazza Della Republica. Flags were flying, yells were sounded, and music was playing as everyone celebrated Italy’s victory. We went across the plaza to a café and got gelato ( I got coconut, and it was delicious).  We reveled in the atmosphere of celebration for about an hour and then walked back to the hotel and fell right to sleep.
            The next day was our free day in Rome. I and my friend Julianne decided we would explore some of the Basilicas that Dr. Millner in the art department at Wheaton suggested we should go to. This was a fantastic day, full of sunshine, exquisite churches, and great company. It was my favorite day in Rome by far. We were not in the midst of 50 people, we could go to the bathroom whenever we wanted, and we could stay in the churches for as long as we pleased. It was divine. Simply knowing that the next day we would be going home made us try to savor the day all the more. We began the day at 10am with a metra ride to the south and didn’t stop until 12am with a bit of gelato and weary feet. We must have walked about 5-6 miles that day. We saw the ecstasy of St. Theresa, the Trevi fountain, paintings by Bernini, Michelangelo’s Horned Moses, the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, we bought lunch, chatted with store clerks, and laughed as smiling Italian men honked at us from their scooters. It was a good day.
            Then my friends, the next morning, I boarded a plane bound for home. On the plane I had trouble sleeping. So, I finished “Murder on the Orient Express” by Agatha Christie, chatted with my seatmates Caroline Dirks and Josh Miller as well as others that stopped by on the 10hr flight, watched the 4th and 5thStar Wars movies, and ate and ate and ate. When we reached Chicago, and I went through customs, I was in a state of childish glee that must have been hilarious to see. We were all so tired and happy that we were probably quite the spectacle at baggage claim. I said my goodbyes to everyone, kindly received a ride back to Wheaton from my friend Maris, and hopped in my car.
            The first thing I did was call my sister Emily and buy a salad at Panera. I laughed as Emsie regaled me with stories and savored the taste of blueberries, strawberries, mandarin oranges, pecans, spinach and poppyseed vinaigrette overcame my tastebuds. Driving home I listened to NPR, and was delighted to catch Prairie Home Companion for two hours. Listening to Garrison Keillor wax eloquent about the joys of the Midwest, driving through wide vistas of corn fields and soybean fields, so very green against the blue sky, and seeing high trees full of leaves as far as the horizon, did my heart good. About a half hour from home the sun began to set, and seeing the peachy lavender of the sky against the green fields was the best welcome home I could’ve received.
            Am I sad the trip is over? A little bit, I was blessed with grand adventures this summer. I made new friends, and created lasting memories that add spice and flavor to my life. I have been formed and molded in new ways and find myself thinking differently than I once did. I feel like I am in the midst of a crater, this trip hit me like a meteour, and I know I have been shaped by it in many many ways. But, I am still too close to see the sides and depth caused by the impact. I think it will be something I will need to process for a little while, so ask me again in a few months, maybe then I will have a better answer. But truly, near the end I knew that that chapter had to close and a new one to be opened. I am blessed to have these moments of rest during which to think and not to think, sleep, play, eat, and laugh, and live in the happy environ of my home. There is no place quite like it.

 

The Doors outside the Church of
St. John the Lateran

 

Inside the Basilica of St. Paul outside the Walls. Take a looksie  

  

Inside the Vatican

 

Then my friends, I saw Laocoon and his sons and my heart did skip within my breast. What a stunning Statue, I could’ve sat there all day looking at him. The movement and dynamism of the sculpture is enrapturing. I think this is one of my favorite sculptures I have ever had the pleasure of seeing.

 

 

Then, there were various tiddly bits in the Vatican. Yet again, I played the game of looking for those statues which entertained me most.

 

An ugly little dwarf that winked at me.

 

 

He kept asking me if I thought the cymbals
made his butt look big…awkward…

 

I think this is where they stand to announce the new pope

 

The entrance out of the Sistine chapel.
They didn’t allow any photos to be taken within
the chapel.

 

This may blow your mind, but the picture above, it is all painted! There is absolutely no relief, it’s all shadow work and perspective!

Outside of St. Peter’s Basilica

 

Inside of St. Peter’s Basilica

 

 

I was separated from Michaelangelo’s pieta
by six feet and a pane of plexi glass. I would’ve loved
to have gotten closer to them, studied the folds of the fabric…
(sigh)

 

 

 

Another Bronze replica of a dead cardinal laying rather creepily in a sarcophagus

 

The Basilica’s famous altar piece

 

Whoever designed the Swiss guard’s outfits had a weird sense
of humour. I’m sure the colors have meaning as well as the format of the ensemble, but honestly, who is going to be intimidated by a man in a beret wearing yellow, red, and purple?

 

 

 

 

St. John in Laterano outside the walls.

 

 

Mother and child before the cross of Christ. Interesting tidbit, I don’t know what it is about Mary’s  pinkie finger and index finger, but every bronzed work that she is cast in has both those fingers rubbed to a high shine. Also, the infant’s foot is always rubbed shiny as well.

 

Borromini sculpted these statues. I fell in love with them. They move in and out of their space in a variety of fantastic ways. As you look down the nave towards the altar you see these figures moving in and out of their spaces beautifully and are given a sense of the vitality of the faith to which they held. For a full list of the statues and picture look here

 

 

This  guy, Jacobus San Major, was the most dashing  one.

 

So beautiful!

 

 

The story of, I believe, Jonah and the whale.

 

 

He was martyred by having his skin flayed off. Many times the saints are shown holding the method by which they had been martyred, hence he holds a knife and his own skin. He is the Apostle Batholomew, and Michelangelo also had him painted on the Sistine Chapel and placed his own self portrait on the face of the boneless skin that Bartholomew holds.

The Coliseum!

 

Something that was interesting to learn about the Coliseum was that the Gladiators that battled there were given the best food and received the best of medical care. They were investments that needed to be cared for. Their bodies were pushed to the limit in training in order to prepare them for the vicious ordeals within the gladiatorial games. This reminded me slightly of professional sports today…

 

The Arch of Constantine

 

This was created right after the sacking of Jerusalem. The arch
was built by Jewish captives funded by the money that was looted from
the temple. I can hardly imagine having to carve into stone the
destruction of your own home for the glorification of your
captors.

 

Roman Forum

 

Scala Sancta

 

Also within the Scala Sancta

 

Why the Scala Sancta is special

 

The First time we tried to visit Moses, he was closed…
Santa Maria Maggiore
I tried to capture the stunning effect of the light
coming in through the dome, but I don’t think
I quite did it justice. this area was lovely to sit in
because it was so quiet and no one seemed interested
in coming in. Their loss.

 

He has such an amiable face.

 

The hallway in Santa Maria

 

This was over the tomb of a patron of the church. You’ll see
in other photos the odd depictions they had of death. It
certainly didn’t shy away from the topic, but I don’t quite
know how I feel about the haunting elements they seemed
to communicate.
Door Handles! They were so tiny, but very ornate.  

 

He stuck his tongue out at me!
The Virgin and Child

the stunning floor design of the chapel

 

The Virgin and Child never gave their
pet pigeon the attention he longed for.

 

Piazza Della Republica after Italy’s win!

 

Horned Moses in the Piazza San Bernardo
I found Handala in Rome! Pro-Palestine Comic Character
I think the muted sticker next to it is very apt.
Rome had these little water spigots everywhere! This was a large one, most of the time it would be a dragon, or a normal little spigot from which you could fill up your water bottle.

 

Ecstasy of St. Theresa. Forgive the quality of the photo…my camera died, hence I used my iPhone.

 

I thought it ironic that in the midst of such a beautiful church they would have a plastic Virgin with a light up halo….

 

Many of these churches had beautiful designs on the floors and various surfaces made from a wide assortment of marbles. They were stunning in their intricacies.

Slightly creepy shrine to Saint Theresa…note to self, never, ever, ever use plastic dolls to replicate the death of anyone you hope to honor…makes the death seem superficial…

So far from Ireland, and yet the Druids are in Rome

 

Island paradise off the road a bit in Rome

 

Michaelangelo’s Horned Moses!

 

 

Some of the portrayals of death in, I think, San Pietro in Vincoli

 

One may ask, “why the lobster”, to which I would reply,
“I have no idea, but it certainly made me laugh”.

 

He just looked so sweet.
The chains which held the Apostle Paul

 

 

Trevi Fountain!
Piazza Navonna

 

 

 

 

 

And Finally, the first photos I took driving through Indiana on my way home. The green against the sky was  the best
welcome home.

Oh, it is good to be home.