vista of Rome

vista of Rome
A funny thing (or two) happened on my way to the Forum - photo taken in Rome, 2003 by yours truly

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Bloggo Su e Giù IV - Ups and Downs of Dottore Gianni's Travels: Fiasco in Firenze, Redenzione in Roma, Part 1, the Fiasco

This is the tale of a trip that started very well, as a Fiesta in Florence! It quickly quickly turned into a Fiasco in Firenze, but after some quick thinking, redenzione (redemption) was found - where else but in the holy city, the eternal city, Roma! The trip was planned to celebrate my fiftieth birthday, similar to  my fortieth birthday present, a trip to London and Stratford (described in the earlier Bloggo Su e Giù II). 

As you'll quickly see, it grew into quite an adventure for Dottore Gianni!

I have divided this fourth installment of the posts on the subject of my earlier travels into two separate posts, both of which should appear on the main page of the blog simultaneously.

A reminder: all passages taken directly from my journal are enclosed in quotation marks, and if I choose to make a comment in the middle of a quote, that will be placed in brackets [  ].

8 January 1997: This first journal entry was written on the flight from New York City to Florence Italy, via Rome. 

"I'm seated in business class! I've been upgraded for some unknown reason (but thanks! ma grazie!) and I'm in a section of seats that features two rows of two seats each, in a sort of V-shape, and with a few single seats in the center of the V. I am in the foremost of those single center seats! Reminds me a bit of a king's throne in a Renaissance theatre...I could get used to this! Of course I'm fairly certain it was just dumb luck, but all this and bella Firenze - beautiful Florence...I'm really tremendously excited, nervous, anticipating...well, 'nuff said for now."

Dottore Gianni's ideal vision of Florence

9 January 1997: "I'm sitting in Rome's Fiumicino Airport on a two and a half hour wait for my flight to Florence, but I've brushed my teeth and washed my face, using the fancy dop kit I was given as part of my upgrade, and am feeling rather perky for one who had only one or two hours of fitful sleep on the trip across the pond."

"The food aboard the flight was a SIN - nuts first, and my choice of wine - I chose a good Montepulciano; then a plate was delivered which featured a huge shrimp and large portion of lobster with crunchy asparagus. Next came the primo piatto (the first course), which consisted of yummy cheese-stuffed shells, followed by the secondo piatto, my choice of red snapper or lamb. I opted for the latter, which came with teeny carrots and new potatoes; after which the cheese course, when I switched (after my third glass of Montepulciano) to a fine Barolo - eccelente! The meal ended with a lovely torta [cake] served with fresh fruit. To wash down that dessert course I chose a glass of sparkling wine, a Spumante. Did I say 'ended'? After that a tasty serving of chocolate. I turned down the coffee that was offered along with it."

"One thing I know, I will miss the food, but even more importantly the leg room and great comfort, on the flight back to the U.S."

"The weather in Rome is mostly cloudy, temperature in the low 50s. I'm afraid that Florence won't be as warm. However, once there I think I'd like to take advantage of the daylight hours to navigate my way around, as I did on my trip to Rome - time to look at the guidebooks now, so, for now, Ciao!"

[So far Su, right? see below for major series of Giù]

Later on 9 January: "DISASTER!!! Just before my flight at Rome left for Florence, I got word from Italiatour that my hotel had been changed at the last minute! Upon landing I grabbed a taxi, and when the driver began driving me out into the hinterlands I realized that my hotel was nowhere near downtown Florence. In fact it was 6 kilometers out of the city. My trip was not shaping up as I had planned, to say the least. I would have to go to the expense to take taxis in and out of Florence, I'd not be able to retreat to my hotel for a short nap to relax before continuing to tour the town...not at ALL what I had in mind."

"So I decided to do something about it. I've been on the phone to Italiatour and have nearly decided either to go back home...or to Rome. I love getting the feel of a city, exploring, being out late at night if I'd like, - and I can't do that from 6 kilometers out! But I'm also VERY tired and maybe not thinking straight. There are several shows I could see in Florence, and the Uffizi is there, isn't it?"

[pause to answer the phone, which has just rung]

"I just made my decision. I fly to Rome tomorrow, and spend the rest of my time there. I don't think it's stupid. The flight there doesn't leave until 2:45 pm, so I could do a quick spin through Florence in the morning, if they'll let me check my bags early."

"This is madness - the whole trip has turned into a bad, expensive joke, but I'm beginning to think I can salvage some of it..."

View from my hotel - pretty, but hardly Florence
10 January 12:30 am: "Well. I slept for three hours. Now I'm awake and am pretty miserable. I've got to shake this or...well...I've been awake for a little while now and all my thoughts are dark. It goes deeper than this fiasco in Florence, I think. My life, on some levels, seems to be going well, but I feel on the edge of a breakdown of some sort. Every day, alongside the good news, something awful seems to happen as well."

[Not sure if this is clear to the reader, but I wasn't just writing about my trip abroad at this point in my journal. I must confess, perusing this journal in 2014 I'm surprised, because I don't remember that I was living such a roller coaster ride in Ithaca as well as on this trip. But it certainly fits my theme of Su e Giù, doesn't it? Ups and Downs? Back now to the journal]

"This is not a good time to get into a deep analysis. Instead I should just recount, what happened after I told Patrizia, the young woman from Italiatour with whom I was working on plan B, that I definitely wanted to get to Rome rather than  embarking on this ridiculous comedy of errors - and I'm right that it is ridiculous, that it is a comedy of errors - in Florence."

Michelangelo designed Ponte Santa Trinita, taken from the Ponte Vecchio

"After the decision was made and the flight set, I took a tumble of sorts yesterday afternoon, a descent if you will into the nightmarish world of Dante's Inferno - yes, yes ironic at very least! Despite the fact that I was tired, angry and upset, I decided to make the best of the rest of my first day and head into Florence. The hotel called me a taxi. The very nice taxi driver, who wanted to learn more English, took me in via a scenic route, through Oltrarno, across Ponte Santa Trinita, pointed out the Ponte Vecchio, Via Tornabuoni, other icons of the city, before dropping me at the foot of the god-like Duomo. Then, after I dropped about 36,000 lyra later (about $25), the taxi driver's fee, I found myself in the center of Florence. Maybe I shouldn't have gone in, but my alternative was to sit in my hotel room and stew. So! I walked and I walked, from the Duomo, Baptistry and Campanile to the Piazza della Signoria, in to the fee exhibition of the restored works from the Uffizi, including Donatello's powerful statue of Mary Magdelene (God!), to the Arno, along the river and across it via the Ponte Vecchio..."

The Duomo, Baptistry, Campanile - the center of Florence

"But by now it's getting to be fairly late so I plunged into Oltrarno in a desperate race to see the Pitti Palace, formidable, but under construction, closed and closely guarded. I headed back to re-cross the river...and, was it at this point or a bit before this?...that I realized I had totally forgotten the name of my hotel, as well as the name of the area outside of Florence where it was located, except that it was located about 6 kilometers to the south of the city!"

"So, VERY tired now, I plunged deeper into the dark night of my soul rushing back towards the Arno, Vespas zinging as they carelessly passed me by. I was becoming a bit panicked, a bit hysterical, in a sometimes laughable, sometimes horrible fashion, realizing that not only had all crumbled before me, but that just as I was trying to re-gain my equilibrium more ground was giving way: I may not even be able to get back to my despised hotel!"

"Thus the discovery of Florence turned into a discovery of how to get "home," the hotel being the only semblance of that word I now knew. I began to search newsstand after newsstand for maps, not of the city center, but of this small section of Tuscany. Alas, Florence, Fiesole and Prato were clearly marked, but the suburb for which I searched was damned to the status of nonentity - another image from the Dante-eque inferno I had just entered." 

"Very little of the name of the place for which I searched was coming began with a 'c' followed by an 'i' or an 'e'...then it dawned on me that the first three letters were 'Cer'...Ah! getting somewhere! The church of Santo Spirito was still 
The Church of Santo Spirito, taken on a later visit to Florence
open. For some reason I walked in, next to an old crone, who, as she buzzed by me seemed to want to ask me something - was she lost too? A brief walk through that beautiful church, darkened except for a light on what I think was a Filippino Lippi Madonna and Child - there were maybe seven or eight people in the church, among them a priest, probably 50 years old, and two young men, maybe
The Filippino Lippi painting
worth illuminating!
 eighteen or twenty possibly in love, at least erotically engaged, all of us, the priest, the boys, the crone and I doing this surreal lost waltz around a dark, quiet church. I sat for a moment, waiting for...what? divine light to reveal the name of my hotel and that abbey set high on a hill very near it, about six miles south of Florence? No light, divine or otherwise, flickered on in my mind, so out of the church I went, on a ramble past darkening but also rather garishly lit up places, the medieval towers of the palazzi for example, a sort of chiaroscuro of my own soul, light and dark struggling, mirroring the light and dark of Florence."

"Anyway, more bookstands, the post office (searching for a phone book) then into a rather large bookstore which featured a good-sized section for tourists, all sorts of books in all sorts of languages on Florence and Tuscany. A little victory here! I finally found a name, Certosa, not clear what that is, some sort of abbey I think, that seemed to be the name of either my hotel, or the specific area in which it was located, then more words... "of Galluci." Digging through a hotel guide in French I discovered that Certosa di Galluci was a place and that next to it there was a hotel - MY hotel - at least so I hoped."

"Now that I think I can get back to my hotel. I realize I'm starving, so I walk around in mild desperation and find a restaurant, the Borghetto di Donatello, just next to the Duomo. I order a pizza, a salad and the house wine. My Italian has failed me almost completely [I had been studying via cassette tapes since early 1996, ahead of the trip to Rome] and the waiter speaks very little English, but he delivers aqua, vino, and a delicious quattro formaggi pizza, with a fair insalata mista - and things aren't bad, really. I leave, moving towards a gelateria, but it's cold for that and besides, I'm exhausted. I'm just going to get a taxi back."

Piazza della Repubblica, where my initial hotel was located

"Instead I plunge further down into Dante's inferno - into taxi hell! I wait and wait at two different taxi stands, one at the Duomo, another near Piazza della Repubblica. A great irony at the latter, central hub in Florence - I glance across the huge square while I'm waiting and I see the sign for the Savoy, the hotel I was supposed to have stayed at! Here there is a queue of about eight or ten people waiting for the elusive taxis of Florence, all apparently otherwise engaged. So I walk away, and see, at the door of the Savoy, a taxi! I try to signal him and embark on a slow dance with the driver. I finally understand (what happened to my Italian!!!) that he is waiting for a customer that has already booked his services."

Santa Maria Novella

"Another thought comes to me and I charge forth again, this time to Florence's busy rail station, at Piazza Santa Maria Novella, and I find the station...but where's the taxi stand? [As I read this in 2014 I'm aware that I did a LOT of hoofing around Florence on that crazy, jet-lagged day!] Find it at last, I'm second in a queue, then suddenly first, as the two guys ahead of me are not waiting for a taxi, just hanging out, and with the beautiful facade of the church of Santa Maria Novella at my back, finally get into a cab. Then I try to explain where I want to go, to a taxi driver who clearly does NOT want to learn English. It's especially hard to explain to him that I can't really remember the exact name of the hotel. But, even though he smokes up a storm in the closed up taxi, in contempt, I'm certain, he does get me to the general area, and suddenly I see my hotel! But the driver seems to have reasoned that what I meant by Certosa was actually Certaldo, and knows the location of that hotel. So we pass mine!  I scream for him to stop, he does, then gets angry at me, I get angry back at him - but he finally gets me to the door of the correct hotel and I give him a huge tip out of all-American embarrassment."

"Oh, the name of my hotel? The Relais Certosa."

My hotel - pretty, isn't it? But 6 kilometers from Florence

"Very shortly I'm in bed watching Italian TV, then asleep for only about three hours and now it', as I write, because I discover that either I'm not very sleepy or I just cannot for the life of me fall asleep. Fine. I'll sleep or not, then tomorrow get on the flight to Rome, check into the Hotel Quirinale [I've seen it several times since, but never stayed there again - too expensive] and sleep THERE...and get blitzed and maybe do some great things...museums I've not seen, maybe the theatre or an opera...go to Ostia Antica, Hadrian's Villa maybe, who knows, even Naples, Herculaneum!"

"Stop - no craziness please, let's just do what we can, spend what we must to salvage this nightmare. As, like Dante, I exile myself from Florence - and head back (backwards?) to Roma."

Sidebar by way of explanation: The reason I had been moved out to the hinterlands of Florence was that there was a huge fashion gathering there at just the time. The Italiatour package included a VERY discounted rate at the hotel, and the day I left the U.S. they refused the room to Italiatour, and Italiatour was left scrambling, as every hotel in central Florence was booked solid. SCREWED by the fashion police!

Piazza dei Signori

Friday, 10 January: "I write as I await my flight from Florence to Rome. After my stream of consciousness epic last night, and my middle of the night writing, I fell asleep and awoke at 8:30, dashed down for a very decent breakfast, and then headed back into the center of Florence. In about an hour and a half of running around the city again, I took about forty photos of many of the spots I had wanted to explore at leisure. So much for Florence, eh?"

Loggia dei Lanci
"I'm torn now, as I sit and wait for the flight, but wind up convinced that this move to Rome is the right one - unless the hotel is a pigsty. I'll spend a little time relaxing every day, and will visit places I missed on the trip with mom. Some places I will re-visit, and generally explore Rome more. I think I may need to re-visit my priorities as well, I hope in a more rational manner than I displayed in last night's fiasco. I'm afraid to read what I wrote about it! When I return and tell my friends, they'll think I'm even crazier than before - and so what really? Ah well, more to write after I've got to Roma!"

Dottore Gianni did get to Roma, but for that you must read the next post, part 2 of Bloggo Su e Giù IV!

Bloggo Su e Giù IV - Ups and Downs of Dottore Gianni's Travels: Fiasco in Firenze, Redenzione in Roma, Part 2, the Redemption

Welcome back! While in Florence not all my time could be described as what I'm calling Giù in this series of posts, most of it was. This second section, while not completely free of Giù, is in general much more Su! As you'll see I've reached Roma...

Friday Evening, 10 January: "In Rome, after a dinner of pizza and vino, watching TV in my very nice hotel room - not a pigsty at all. It's located literally adjacent to the opera house! The TV has CNN, two German channels, one French, all the rest in Italian, in fact I'm now watching E.R. in Italiano."

Dottore Gianni at rest, recovering from 
the Fiasco in Firenze, in his hotel room

"After a decent flight a very concerned and kind Patrizia (from Italiatour) met me at the airport and did me all sorts of good. Put me in a nice hotel, obviously, chatted about all sorts of stuff, and (!) invited me to go to a great flea market on Sunday morning, which of course I accepted."

[At that point in the writing I must have dozed off, awoke again at 4:30 am, then fell back asleep.]

Saturday, 9:30 am 11 January: "Back from a mediocre breakfast, only rolls and tepid coffee, ended with a mealy apple which I'm finishing off in my room. It looks to be a beautiful day, and I think I'm going to avoid my overcoat. I think I want to visit the Capitoline Museums and the Palazzo Barberini...we shall see... oh! and biglietti [tickets] for the opera and the Teatro Argentina. More anon..."

later, 4:30 pm 11 January: "Had a nice but tiring day touring museums; the Palazzo Barberini, with its collection of thirteenth to seventeenth century paintings, including a couple of Caravaggios and a quite sexy Rafaello [La Fornarina]..."

Raffaello's La Fornarina, in the
Palazzo Barberini

"Oh! But before that, I bought a ticket to the opera (48,000 lira)!"

"Then (when? chronology, Jack!) after my visit to the Barberini I popped into Santa Susanna, the church in which services are held in English, and another two churches in the same area, near the Piazza della Repubblica. Next I walked to Largo Argentina via the Trevi Fountain and bought a ticket for tonight for a Goldoni playing there - I couldn't even translate the title, so I fear I may spend as much time looking at the physical aspects of the theatre as I will watching, or at least understanding, the play - nevertheless I look forward to it!"

[At this point in the journal I go on and on about money - I've spared the reader most of my woes and fiscal condition, just thought I'd mention that there is a good bit cut from this "edition," if you will...even if you won't, adds Dottore Gianni.]

Constantine "deconstructed" - Capitoline Museums

"On then to the Capitoline Museums, on the way checking on nearby churches, Il Gesu and Santa Maria in Aracoeli, both closed at that hour of the day so no luck there, but the Capitoline Museums were impressive! I also took some photos I think I can use for my history lectures, if any of them turn out! A bit of a trudge home after that - I'm pooped, but afraid for some reason to use the bus pass that I bought - I must take courage!"

Mosaique of ancient Roman theatre masks
Capitoline Museums

and still later, 10:30 pm 11 January: "Well...I fear that I lasted only one act of the Goldoni at the Teatro Argentina. Why on earth didn't I see it all! Two reasons, in un momento." 

"Before those reasons, I had a nice walk down Via Nazionale and and around the Vittorio Emanuele II monument, and arrived at Largo Argentina just in time to wolf down a great cheap meal at a trattoria, as delicious as lunch had been mediocre, and the same price - wonderful pasta, a beautiful insalata and delicious vitello! [Pasta you know, insalata you can guess, but you may not know that vitello is veal] Good house wine as well, just in time to get to the performance on time."

[At this point in my journal I embark on a lengthy and not terribly interesting description of the theatre - on the outside it looks like it could be modern, but the auditorium is as it was in the eighteenth century - and the play - Dottore Gianni insists that I spare the reader all of that, but I will note the two reasons I left early (not understanding the Italian and a poor production) below.]

Teatro Argentina

"Even though Goldoni rejected commedia techniques he still used stock characters, and in this production there were some I recognized. But Goldoni is very much about clever language, most of which was lost on me. The audience seemed to be watching an opera: dead silence (at first I thought they were hostile), then at certain "bits" performed by the actors they'd burst into applause! I have two words for the production: Deadly Theatre. Well, they are Peter Brook's words, but I appropriate them here. I realize that I missed most of the exposition, but I know stale theatrical tricks when I see them. I'm quite aware that lazzi [physical comic pieces of business] always were and still are used in commedia dell'arte, but it was only at these contrived and all too clearly set up bits that the audience laughed, as if on cue. Goldoni, I'm betting, would have hated it. Who knows? He may even have rolled over in his grave! [Didn't realize you were going to get a brief theatre history lesson in this, did you, dear reader?]So I left, took an expensive taxi back to the hotel, and here I message from Patrizia, sigh, sort of [the call from her would have been to set up the next morning at the flea market, in case the reader doesn't remember]...but now I know I'm on my own - and I'll make the most of it!"

Sunday morning 12 January: "At breakfast early, and I think by accident I was actually given a pot of HOT coffee - Sometimes the magic works... [a definite Su moment] I'm pulled back towards San Pietro this morning, then perhaps a walk back via Castel Sant Angelo and Via Coronari towards the Campo dei Fuori, by way of the Piazza Navona? I must keep to a budget, and I want to re-visit briefly places that I remember fondly from my last (and first!) visit to Rome - the Villa Borghese, Piazza di Spagna, Piazza del Populo..."

"I need to make more use of the lobby here - I'm in it now, sitting in a very comfy chair - but I should arise from it, as I must start my day!"

Piazza Navona, January 97

Noon-ish, 12 January: "Now this isn't bad! Six days before my fiftieth birthday I'm lunching outside at Caffè Braccio on the Piazza Navona! This square is packed and the sun is warm enough for a lovely outdoor lunch: Lasagna e un po di vino, perhaps even a gelato per dolci. I had the waiter snap my picture - if it comes out, it may be my next Christmas card - Buon appetito!" [Another definite Su moment]

Dottore Gianni in Ecstasy, Piazza Navona

later, 3:40 pm, 12 January: "Part of me wants to nap, part of me wants to go back out for a little more of this glorious day. The lazy part of me may just win - we'll see. I spoke to Patrizia on the phone. She had a fever yesterday, better now but resting. Wants to meet for a drink this evening and will call at seven. I must say this is rather nice of her - and rather nice in general."

Castel St Angelo - formidable!

"In addition to my wonderful lunch, I took the metro to near St Peter's, saw the Pietà again and marveled. Bernini's altar and the throne are amazing, but too much, overdone 
Bernini's angels on the Ponte San Angelo
compared to the perfection of the Pietà. Headed towards the monstrous Castel St Angelo, the great bridge near it, decorated with Bernini's angels. Then a stroll down the via dei Coronari, which was just springing to life, from there to the Pantheon - what a building! And on to Campo dei Fiori, then to the Tiber and a walk along it to St Peter's, and back on the metro - what a circuit! The sun is just about to set as I write - what a glorious day! Che bella giornata!" 

[Definite Su]

Monday 13 January: "I've been debating how best to spend my time without killing myself. I think later this morning, or maybe Tuesday morning, Ostia Antica is a must; then some time in Trastevere, back to the Villa Borghese. That may not seem like much, but I think it will be a good bit to fit into two days."

"Oh! Dinner last night - quite nice, if a bit strange - odd waiter, and I was placed right on top of a couple (NYC restaurant style) who happened to be American academics - the Millers? Anya was her name (who cares what his was), and they both teach in the CUNY system. I had rigatoni Bolognese, tasty, and vitello Milanese, followed by an outrageous gelato concoction. Finally the waiter gave me a limoncello [my very first], a light after-dinner drink he described as 'un digestif' - not bad! The restaurant is across from the opera - may return Tuesday..."

Ancient Roman Theatre at Ostia Antica, much restored

Monday night, 13 January: "Well, I had a full day!  I figured out how to get to Ostia Antica, charged out there and spent from about 11 am to 1 pm strolling around, taking probably too many photos. It's a lovely walk through an ancient city. You get that feeling of the ages as you go over its stones, really."

Roman Theatre at Ostia Antica, another view

"Back in the center, I tried for a late lunch at the Piazza di Spagna, but wanted to eat outside and the entire area was 
Piazza del Popolo
already in the shade, so walked farther to the much sunnier Piazza del Popolo, had a fair lunch there - pizza with broccoli and sausage - forgettable - a better salad and decent wine. I was early for the afternoon opening of Santa Maria del Populo, the church on the piazza in which were two Caravaggios, so I marched up the steep hill to the Pincio and soaked up sun, people, and a heavenly view. Then returned to the piazza and was able to see the artist's Conversion of Paul and the Martyrdom of Peter - the second fascinated me, the first seemed too much like the story of a horse. Then I took the metro to a stop near my hotel, and
Bernini's Ecstasy of St Teresa,
Santa Maria della Vectoria
just as the church opened I was able to see Bernini's brilliant and theatrical Ecstasy of St Teresa - amazing! Trudged back to the hotel at about 5 pm, exhausted, napped until a bit after 6 pm, then decided to go out in search of souvenirs. I headed towards the Trevi Fountain, but by now the crowds and the shops around it seem to me rather ridiculous. Limped back to the hotel, stopping at a stand and spending far too much on two beers and two sandwiches. Ironically I hadn't wanted a full meal, but I came damned close to paying for one!"

"And now I'm here in the room, it's close to ten pm and TV time. Still debating how to spend my last day in Rome. Trastevere? and perhaps churches near the Piazza Navona? Ah! TV's on and it's Anthony Hopkins in Shadowlands, dubbed in Italiano! A can't-miss...One more day, then the opera, then back to the USA...hmmmm...mixed feelings..."

Tuesday 14 January: "Last full day, and a lovely one! Confirmed my ticket back, visited San Pietro in Vincoli for Michelangelo's statue of Moses, and quickly toured the Colosseum once more. That, and the Arch of Constantine and the Roman Forum are still amazing sights the second time around. Then to the Circus Maximus, and across the bridge to Trastevere. A stroll around that pleasant part of town, a gift for mom, to Gianicolo for the Palazzo Corsini and San Pietro in Montire (there are many St Peters in Rome!). Then back to Trastevere for a big lunch at Ristorante Da fresco!"

Santa Maria in Trastevere, beautiful church
in a lovely piazza

5:30 pm, Tuesday 14 January: "Apparently I'm to meet the elusive Patrizia [while I obviously failed to mention this in my journal, she canceled Monday as well as Sunday] for an aperitivo at 7 pm, just before I dash to the opera. Apparently her father lives right around the corner from the hotel. We shall see..."

"I had started strong today, but dropped out rather early. Got to Piazza Navona at 3 pm, but instead of having the drink I'd planned on, instead I grabbed a taxi back to the hotel - nature called! [God, do I leave ANYthing out of these journals? Of course I could have edited out, but then you'd not know the real Dottore Gianni!]" On the way to the Piazza I took a lovely walk along the river."

"Lovely indeed, until a car pulled up next to me and a man asked me to point out where St Peter's was, and the way to the French Embassy. I was able to explain the directions to both for him. Then he offered me two Yves St Laurent jackets because I'd been so nice. Gullible Jack took them - and then the guy asked for money! 50,000 lira. I truthfully did not have it, and told him so. Of course it was a scam. 
Who knew?! Me, I guess. I'm not usually a sucker, but I certainly got gulled this time!"  [one of the very few g moments during my time in Rome].

"Still, it was an otherwise pleasant walk. This is a truly beautiful city. I say it again as emphatically as I did when I was first here."

"I did not get to the churches I'd planned to visit [for the art my friends, not because I was - nor am - moved by the spirit. I was then and am still a Catholic, but in name only, very "lapsed" indeed.] nor to the Villa Giula for the Etruscan art to be found there, but it's all right. I don't have to throw a coin into the Trevi Fountain to realize that I'll return one day."

The Trevi Fountain - no need to toss a coin in this time - and as it turned out I have returned to Rome several times since!

"As I write, a church bell in the distance is chiming the old hymn 'Christ the Lord is Risen Today.' I think I'll watch a little TV and get dressed at 6:30 pm, in case Patrizia calls early...And then the opera! It's an early Verdi, Sicilian Vespers. Couldn't be too bad, and I look forward to seeing the inside of the theatre."

"And then tomorrow, I'm off. Already packed, and I have a complimentary transfer to the airport, courtesy Italiatour. I'm to be picked up at the hotel at 10 am."

Wednesday 15 January: "I'm at breakfast on my last morning in Roma. I had a really terrific evening, even (and maybe especially) before the opera. I'm eating a tad earlier than usual, a bit after 7:30 am, so that I can make fairly certain I'll be downstairs in plenty of time for the beginning of the very long day ahead."

"I'm pleased that Italiatour has provided transport to the airport. I find myself praying that they upgraded my seat again on the flight home as well. But as a friend from Brooklyn would say, 'Wuddevah!' 

"Now, about last night! I met Patrizia in the lobby. She is not a beauty, but she had energy and charm that outclass most of the women I've met. I've been more than lucky to be introduced to, recently, several young women, mostly not from the U.S., who have graced my life for varying though always brief periods of time."

"Certainly the monuments of Rome, and on this trip the smaller treasures - St Teresa in ecstasy in a little church, the Caravaggios in the Palazzo Barberina and in Santa Maria del Populo - will stay with me. But so too will the two talks I had with Patrizia; at the airport, where we realized we were 'kindred spirits' and last night at the bar in my hotel, where we had a lovely chat and knew that we would meet again - the glasses of sparkling wine we quaffed didn't hurt either..."

"Patrizia walked me to the opera and when I kissed her cheek lightly, she reminded me, "Two kisses in Rome" so I readily obliged as she turned the other cheek. She continued "Three in Paris, two in Rome" and I promised to remember - ah! a very brief encounter. She has been to Prague, is leaving Rome soon to work in Munich, has even driven around south and central Florida! Cosmopolitan? Si, Si!"

[Ah Jack, alas and alack! Truth to tell, looking back from 2014: Patrizia and I never met again, in fact I later found out from her that she wanted to set me up with her mother! Agh! Her madre and I actually wrote a few times back and forth across the pond, but nothing ever came of that either... probably just as well! Oh, and in spite of my promise I did NOT remember about "three in Paris" - too bad as there were one or two occasions when...oh, never you mind...]

The Opera, a hop, skip & jump from my hotel

"Finalmente, the opera! The auditorium was every bit as I'd hoped, from the eighteenth century horseshoe shaped house with a lot of gilt and light, the round ceiling, painted with an allegorical mural, a huge chandelier at its center. I was in a box of five seats looking down into the orchestra pit, so I had a great look at the auditorium, and also ran around during intermission viewing it again from several angles."

"I had a grand view of the king's box, even had the chance to explain it to the young American fellow who had helped me when I bought my ticket a few days before, now sharing my box at the opera. He is in Rome for his grandfather's wedding, after which he flies back to his the Blue Note in New York City! He's 23, a philosophy major from Binghamton NY who loves opera and jazz - there is still hope for the future of the world!"

The Royal Box at the Opera di Roma -
situated opposite the stage, it's like a miniature theatre,
where the royalty can be seen!

"I explained the royal box as well to my Argentinian instant friends in the box, on their way to Greece, who came to the opera primarily for the ballet in it, which featured a famous countryman of theirs. Of course I had come to the opera to take in the performance space, and I..."

[I have paused the journal at this point, as I next launched in on a lengthy description of the auditorium which is better left to the history classroom - breathe a sigh of relief, dear reader, that the good doctor did not put you through it! I will retain a bit about the performance, which may or may not interest you, just below]

a bit later in the morning, 15 January: "I'm just out of the shower, with a good half hour before I need to be downstairs. Les Vepres Siciliennes* is early Verdi and not his best - a few memorable melodies and some fine choral passages. The cast was disposable. Not to be overly critical, but one goes to the opera - at least Dottore Gianni does - to be swept away by the singing, and in my opinion the bass was the only one who managed that. The soprano, Daniella Dessi, was indisposed and replaced by a woman announced to sing for this performance only."

[*aka I Vespri Siciliani in Italian, Sicilian Vespers in English, Verdi's second opera written to be performed in Paris - thus the French title. It doesn't field a lot of productions today, and most of those are not performed in French, but in Italian, in which a libretto was quickly put together from the French. Strangely enough, this production was sung in French with Italian supertitles - ergo no help to Dottore Gianni! Interestingly, looking back from 2014, the Rome Opera production that I saw is one of only five or six mentioned in the Wikipedia entry on the opera - who knew? But then, everybody's a critic, including, it seems, Dottore Gianni.]

"There was in this lengthy production a ballet, as previously noted. Titled 'The Four Seasons,' it was THE highlight of the 
Alessandra Ferri
prima ballerina assoluta
- absolutely!
evening, as it was danced by the gorgeous Alessandra Ferri and her frequent partner the Argentinian Maximilian Guerra (the fellow my new friends from that country had come to see). They were terrific, but it was a long interlude. I whispered to my American friend, 'And now, back to Palermo,' after the half hour interlude of dance."

"I will admit it, I left after Act IV, which ended at midnight. There were two scenes of Act V still to come, and for me at least what had begun as a pleasure ended as an endurance test." 

"But it was a fine way to end my second Rome adventure. Here's hoping there'll be more! And now, downstairs to the bus, then the airport, then the pleasures, briefly, of New York City..."

later in the day, 15 January: "On the flight home now. I bumped into the Millers again - Anya and Mark [ah! THAT's his name - from the restaurant opposite the opera, remember?], in the bus to the airport. They are on their way to Venice. I must drop them a line sometime. We had a nice chat. They both teach in English departments, she a course on English and Alcoholism [which strikes me writing in 2014 as a course with an abundance of subject matter]."

"We're less than an hour into the flight and are witnessing an unexpected treat. We're flying over the Alps and can see them crystal clear - absolutely amazing! They are somewhat frightening in their majesty, starting very close to the coast, then, still not far inland, becoming extremely jagged, high and snow-capped. An extraordinary sight, and well worth noting."

"It's been an interesting journey, from nightmarish failure in Florence [Giù] to rather a lovely time in Rome [Su]. In spite of all, I remember my walks, investigations, discoveries - and sitting outside in a brilliant mid-winter sun, lunching on the Piazza, not all bad. In fact, all in all, un buon viaggio!"

I realize I am repeating this photo, but considering
my last journal entry, I think it's appropriate, don't you?


A word or two before I go, these from 2014...two things I want to point out, one of which I seem to have omitted from the journal, the other something I could not have known at the time, as I wasn't rewarded by it until later. I am nearly 
Agranov and Dottore Gianni
certain that I bumped into one of my former students, the very bright and talented David Agranov, while at St Peter's during this visit. In fact I have a photo of the two of us. There is a slight possibility that I met him during the March 1996 visit, but I do believe it was this time. It was the first of several very pleasant and completely accidental, coincidental but serendipitous meetings I've had with former students on later trips, including running into one alum in Prague, another in Vienna, and four together in Italy. In fact I more or less bumped into David again in 2005 in London, when I was teaching at our center there for the first time. I walked into Bill's (director ICLC) office and who was sitting there chatting with him but young Agranov! Here's hoping that that won't be our last chance encounter.

Second, the very nice young man, whose name I, alas, no longer remember, that I met twice, first when he helped me with my ticket to the opera, second at the opera itself, told me that if I was ever at the Blue Note he could arrange priority seating for me.  Yeah, sure...but some time later, not sure when, my friend Will and I were all revved up to see Oscar Peterson play there, and I decided, what the hell, it can't hurt to call the fellow from the opera. I did, and guess what? By all the gods of music he did just what he'd promised! The place was going to be packed, there was a line around the block, but as instructed I asked for him, and he took Will and me to the front of the line, along with a few other VIPs - we had TERRIFIC seats and a terrific time. Thank you young man, whomever, wherever you are!

Next stop featured in this series: Prague, 1998! Dottore Gianni is betting that you cannot wait!