Thursday, July 17, 2008

Vatican City and Villa Borghese

July 17, 2008

Even though it has only been a few days since my last post I feel like I've done so much! It really has been a busy week though. Monday after school I went to the Musei Vaticani, a visit which I had kept putting off. I have to say, it didn't really live up to my high expectations. It's such a touristy place which makes it super crowded, the set-up of exhibitions is very disorganized. And worst of all, you can't even stroll leisurely through the galleries looking at the art; they have a walking path through the museums, ending at the Sistine Chapel, so it's basically like you are in a very long line with hardly any opportunity to look at the pieces of art you pass by. The rooms and artworks were also poorly labeled, making it difficult for me to locate the pieces I really wanted to see. But enough complaining, because much of the art housed in these museums is quite impressive. My favorite was a beautiful painting by one of my favorite artists, Salvador Dalì, which I happened to spot out of the corner of my eye : ) Another highlight for me was a sculpture of a man holding his child and gazing down at him, but sadly I didn't get a chance to learn the author's name. I also love the ceilings in every room, with gorgeous frescoes and ornate details. I also enjoyed the Borgia Apartment where there is a collection of relatively modern works. Raphael's Room was of course stunning for the brief moment I was in it until I was forced to move forward in the stupid "line". And Caravaggio's paintings were amazing as well. And then there was the Sistine Chapel. I have to admit, at first glance it was kind of a let down, only because it was not at all what I had imagined. But the longer I spent in the chapel, inspecting the details of Michelangelo's massive creation, the more in awe I became. Especially being able to read in my guidebook which scenes meant what as I looked at them. I was disappointed that pictures weren't allowed, but I was able to crouch down in the crowd and sneak a couple of The Last Judgment and the Creation of Adam! It really was a phenomenal experience. Afterward, I met up with Gabi and Carly who had also gone to the museums, and we headed for the Pinacoteca, or picture gallery. There was a really impressive array of paintings throughout these rooms, my favorite being a one with a series of animal paintings. One in particular was very beautiful, with nearly every main species of animal in exquisite detail. There was even a smiling camel! As we walked through the rooms, we also got a few glimpses of the beautiful Papal Gardens from the windows, which sadly are not open to the public. There was also a really cool, modern-like giant, gold, rotating sphere in the courtyard which I really liked, and just before we left, these museum workers let Gabi push it to rotate it! On a more disappointing note, I got screwed in terms of money that day. I paid the full price for my ticket, not knowing that I qualified for the student discount, and then I dropped 10 euro while I was buying my ticket and didn't notice until later. On the way home, I was madly craving lemonade, so when we passed a gelateria and I saw lemon flavored granite (like a slushee) I had to stop. It was so refreshing, and tasted exactly like a Merlino's freeze from back in Sacramento! Tuesday was just as busy. ACCENT had arranged for us to go to the wonderful Galleria Borghese located in the beautiful and green Villa Borghese, Rome's large public park. It was an especially unique experience because reservations are necessary to visit this museum, so it wouldn't have been easy to see it on my own. My roommates and I underestimated how much time it would take to get there, and when we got to Villa Borghese, Gabi and Kathryn, who walk super fast (and also had the map!) lost Susan and I. With no map, we got lost and had to ask for directions to the Galleria, and we ended up being about 20 minutes late. The woman from ACCENT told us we were too late and she didn't get us tickets, and both Susan's and my own faces fell. It didn't make sense either, because Carly had told her we were in the park and on our way before she bought the group tickets, plus we had signed up, so she had a list of the number of people in the group, and yet she still didn't buy our tickets! Anyway, luckily our tour guide saw how upset we were and said they could try to get two more tickets at 3pm, when they apparently give away the tickets of reservations that didn't show up. So after a tense 20 minutes, we managed to get our tickets! And I have to say, after the tour, knowing how amazing it was, I was so thankful we made it! A number of factors combined made this visit one of the highlight of my entire time in Rome. First, our tour guide was spectacular. My words will not do him justice; he was incredibly intelligent and enthusiastic, and presented and explained the material in the most captivating and interesting way I have ever experienced. Secondly, the collection in the Galleria was superb, in particular four of Bernini's earlier sculptures which were nothing short of breathtaking. The first one we saw was Aeneas, Anchises, and Ascanius fleeing from the burning Troy. Aeneus is carrying his elderly father, Anchises, while his son, Ascanius, clings to his leg. This sculpture is known for it's representation of man at the three stages of life (youth, adulthood, and old age), but it truly shows the genius of Bernini. Next we saw the maginificent The Rape of Proserpina, in which Pluto is grasping Proserpina whom he stole from Sicily, where she was picking flowers, and brought her down to Hades and raped her. An interesting anecdote: when Proserpina was stolen from Sicily, she lost the flowers she was picking before being raped, which is responsible for the phrase "deflowering"! This statue also symbolizes the story in mythology of the seasons, in which it is winter and fall while Proserpina is in Hades with Pluto for six months, and summer and spring when she returns to earth for the other months. Below the struggle is the barking three-headed dog from Hell, Cerberus. The details of this statue were nothing short of exquisite. Proserpina, with tears on her face and toes curled, desperately trying to escape from the arms of Pluto, who holds her tight with a look of conquest in his face. The highlight, however, is Bernini doing the impossible: turning hard marble into supple flesh; the indentations of Pluto's fingers on Proserpina's thigh where he grips it make the statue come alive. Then we moved on to Bernini's interpretation of David. In his version, David is rearing back with his stone in the sling, about to kill Goliath, with persed lips and a determined look in his eyes. In fact, the face of this sculpture was actually a self-portrait of the youthful artist! Again, quite magnificent. Our guide certainly saved the best for last though. Bernini's Apollo and Daphne is an absolute masterpiece, depicting the chaste nymph Daphne being turned into a laurel tree, pursued in vain by Apollo. The scupture was inspired by a beautiful poem in Ovid's Metamorphoses. Our tour guide read us the poem as we slowly circled the sculpture in a specific direction, in which you actually see the transformation of Daphne into a tree as you hear about it in the poem! By the end of your rotation, you literally only see a tree, and no trace of the woman whom you faced at the start. Bark and leaves cover most of her body, but according to Ovid's lines, Apollo's hand can still feel her heart beating beneath it.Thus the scene ends by Daphne being transformed into a laurel tree to escape her divine aggressor. The details seemed impossible, down to the precise leaves and the marble of Apollo's billowing wrap so thin you can see light shine through! To complete the sculpture, this quote is carved at the base: "Those who love to pursue fleeting forms of pleasure, in the end find only leaves and bitter berries in their hands". We spent at least 40 minutes at this sculpture, but honestly I could have looked at it for hours. To contrast Bernini's baroque style, we also saw Canova's Renaissance-style sculpture of the reclining Paulina Bonaparte, posing as the goddess Juno. On a final note, I have to mention that Bernini's sculptures were completed before the age of...26!
We then moved upstairs to view a few paintings. I won't go into too much detail with these paintings. They included: Correggio's masterpiece, Danäe, depicting one of the four stories in Ovid's Metamorphoses about the loves of Jupiter, this one in which Jupiter is transformed into a golden cloud to be with the secluded beauty Danäe; Titian's Sacred and Profane Love, depicting two women, whose meaning we debated for a good half hour, until settling noncomitally on the painting being a celebration of the marriage of Nicolò Aurelio and Laura Bagarotto (another interesting anecdote - Aurelio, a politician in Venice, voted in favor of having Laura's family killed for being traitors, which happened, and yet she still agreed to marry him!); Caravaggio's dark David with the Head of Goliath; and lastly Domenichino's Diana, goddess of the hunt, holding a series of games with her nymphs while being spyed on by two males. This latter painting is beautiful, but it came alive with our tour guide's words, until it was no longer a one-dimensional painting but rather a story that the viewer is literally a part of.
I cannot tell you how happy I was I didn't miss this tour; it opened my eyes to a whole new way of viewing art, and I was able to see some true masterpieces close-up. Priceless I think. Afterward we took a leisurely stroll through the beautiful park (complete with a pond with geese, ducks, and rentable boats!). Since I wasn't allowed to take my camera into the Galleria, I'm posting pics of the art pieces from the Internet to give you an idea, but in no way do they compare to the real thing.
On Wednesay I kept the momentum going and went to St. Peter's in Vatican city that afternoon. I have to share a hilarious story first: while waiting in the line to go through security, a couple from Brooklyn, with really heavy accents, stood behind me, talking very loud and obnoxiously. They must have assumed everyone around them, including me, didn't speak English, because they made no attempt to lower their voices as they talked about those around them. Anyway, as I listened to their annoying chatter, I realized they were talking about me! They were debating what the number was tattooed behind my ear was - the woman said 1954 (correctly), while the man maintained that it was 1981. They then started speculating what it must mean, and were certain it was the year I was born. The man said, "Oh, it must be 1981, that would make her what, 17? Yeah, she looks 17." And then the woman said, "No that would make her 27." To which they both then agreed that I was 27! And all the while, I just stood there in silence, fighting the urge to turn around and say "It's fucking 1954, and I'm actually 54 years old. Now shut the hell up!" I have to say it was amusing though : ) After security I was really excited to see the Swiss guards again! St. Peter's was certainly extravagant and beautiful, but I wasn't too impressed. Bernini's baldocchino, a giant, detailed, brass "altar" was impressive. Michelangelo's Pietà, one of his first major works, was crowded with tourists of course. Cambio's brass statue of St. Peter, whose toe pilgrims come to kiss, had a long line in front of it. The highlight of the altar, designed by Bernini naturally, was the beautiful Throne of St. Peter, culminating in the center with a lovely stained glass. And then Bernini's tomb for Pope Alexander VII where, underneath the cloth of red marble is a gold skeleton holding an hourglass, reminding everyone of the fleeting nature of life. Before heading up to the cupola, or dome, of St. Peter's, I went underground to the Grottoes where the tombs of past Popes are housed. Not too exciting.
I decided not to pay the extra 3 euro for the lift to the first level of the basilica, and take the stairs the whole way. Let me just say there are more than 500 stairs, many quite steep, so it was not an easy or quick climb. But it was absolutely worth it. The view from the top - of St. Peter's Square, the Papal Gardens, the skyline of Rome - were amazing. I spent a good 4o minutes up there, enjoying the views and the nice breeze and resting before making the trek back down. Overall I found my trips this week to the Vatican (both the Museums and St. Peter's) were really great. I was a little disappointed to find out upon returning home that none of my roommates had climbed to the top of St. Peter's yet and wanted to...I had assumed they all had becuase they've been there before, so I went alone! I'm definitely asking questions from now on.
Wednesday night was rare as we had no homework, so we invited Carlo and Marco over to hang out. I have to say it was uneventful, especially considering how much fun we usually have with them, so I finally just went to bed. Although, as I found out today, some interesting things went on after I had called it a night : ) On Thursday I took a much needed break. When I woke up in the morning, I was exhausted and sore from my climb to the dome, and really just not in the mood to deal with class, especially since Thursdays are our long days. I decided to use one of my two free absences for the morning part of class, and meet them in the afternoon at Rome's L'Universita di Sapienza. I'm disappointed that I went since I already was absent for the day, because it was so boring. They sent us on a scavenger hunt of sorts to find out various things about departments and classes, etc. Pretty lame actually, Gabi and I ended up making up pretty much all of it. Afterward we walked to Santa Maria Maggiore, one of Rome's four major basilicas. When we got there though, there was a fence surrounding the stairs, so we thought we couldn't go in, but then we decided to walk around the church before heading back, and discovered that the entrance was on the other side! It was a gorgeous church, inside and out, with a beautiful, large mosaic behind the altar and two extravagent chapels on either side of the altar.
It was definitely a busy but productive week. It's hit me that we only have two weeks left in Rome, so I want to make the most of them. I can't believe we've been here for a month though! Other exciting news is that I've booked my trip to Paris!! I'll be there August 4-8th, and I'm doing it solo, which is a little daunting. But I'm so excited to finally see the City of Lights, and I know it will be amazing. I was able to get pretty good deals on flights and a hostel, and I know the money will totally be worth it. In some not so exciting news, I got my midterm back this week, after having our teacher chastise us for five minutes about how we aren't making enough of an effort. Maybe she needs to question whether it's her, not us? Anyway, I got an 83%, which is pretty decent compared to the rest of the class who averaged C's, but I still made a lot of errors. I've been getting A's on my compositions though and doing all my homework, so I think I'll be able to get at least the minimum grade to pass this class - a B. High standards for an optional course, right? Anyway, I know this post was longer than usual, but I saw and did some really amazing things that I wanted to do justice in describing. We have some pretty fantastic things planned for this weekend, including the opera, so another post will follow soon!

xo baci grandi xo

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