About the only way I can manage to write text for this blog is to post excerpts of something being written for a different purpose, in this case a letter to friends --
"Thursday, April 2, we headed for the Vatican museum first thing. We had heard we would have to queue up to enter, and were relieved to discover this was not the case. This early in the season there were many foreign tourists, a good many of them students on school trips, and many Americans besides. So it became a game to keep ahead, or behind, these large groups of people, though sometimes it was fun to eavesdrop on a tour guide speaking English. Raphael's Stanzes and of course the Sistine Chapel were the high point of the tour and it was a fantastic experience to see these images that hitherto I had seen only in art books, most of them smoky and grimy. The frescoes, brilliantly colored after the restoration work of the last 20 years, were simply amazing. There were many other wonderful aspects of the museum, including the antiquities and the very building itself.
"We wanted to visit St. Peter's basilica, but were surprised at the length of the queue in the square outside, which was not moving. It was only the following day that we remembered that April 2 was the fifth death anniversary of John Paul II. So the people in the square must have been waiting for the end of memorial rites of some kind within the basilica. We mustered the energy to visit the Scalinata della Trinità dei Monti (the Spanish Steps) instead, where a bride and groom suddenly appeared and kissed several times as the crowd gathered at the staircase cheered. People took photos and video, and we're sure those kisses have turned up on a few travel blogs this week! Then we walked to the Trevi Fountain, which was so crowded with people we literally queued up to get a slot to have our picture taken and throw a coin with right hand, over left shoulder, to make sure we would return to Rome. Then to the Pantheon, peering into the windows of some legendary boutiques along the way. The place was crowded, too, mostly with students (American by the sound of them).
"The following day, Friday, we headed to St. Peter's basilica, and this time managed to get in after just half an hour. (It's much more popular than the Vatican museum -- perhaps the 12 euro entrance fees at the latter act as a deterrent). Again, at least for me, there was that feeling of unreality, of being in someplace you had always heard about but did not expect to visit. Our visit was pleasantly lengthened by the appearance of an ambassador and his entourage on their way to visit the Pope. There was much pomp and circumstance. First the basilica marshalls held back the crowd, then came Swiss Guards, some religious persons in robes and the ambassador and his wife and three young women in black (complete with veils) who must have been daughters. The whole entourage appeared to have come from some Latin American country. They seemed incredibly wealthy and chic. They paused at the altar containing the Pieta, and then again at the altar before the great apse, where the ambassador and his wife knelt and the daughter snapped photos. The crowd snapped photos of them too -- we felt like papparazi! Totally unexpected, theatrical things seem to happen on an everyday level in Italy.
I love the juxtaposition of black veil and killer stilletos on one of the young women, standing beyond the religious personage in purple robes.
"From the basilica, we walked what seemed a great distance (given that we were on our last legs after two weeks of sightseeing) to the Forum and, beyond it, the Colosseum, passing by the infamous monument to Vittorio Emanuele. We knew we were approaching the Colosseum -- something quintessentially Roman -- because we began to see more and more people costumed as gladiators, happy to pose with tourists for some euros. The Colosseum, with its crowds, has certainly changed from the day when Henry James used it as a setting for a scandalous tryst in his novella "Daisy Miller". Then, it was silent, moonlit and mysterious, not to mention malarial. There, I found a bevy of noisy Italian high school students, among others, and witnessed a group of the faithful going through one of the stations of the cross, in preparation for Easter. Again, another reminder of the legacy of ceremony and ritual in this part of the world."
We are following the coverage of the earthquake in central Italy with concern and sympathy for its victims.