Angels & Demons

"All who wander are not lost"
-- J.R.R. Tolkien

Buongiorno a.k.a. hello! In typical Italian (just like Greek) fashion, Mom and I awoke at 12:00 & felt renewed.  We flung open the shutters that blocked out all light and were greeted by a midday sun, blue skies and a slight breeze.  We each added a sole cushion to our tennis shoes and set off.  There were two reasons we opted to take today at a slower-than-usual pace: 1) we were still a bit exhausted and sore from yesterday’s antics (dragging luggage all over Athens/sprinting to the airport gate); 2) it was Sunday so there was a greater chance museums/gardens/shop would be closed.

From The Marcella Royal Hotel we walked past the American Embassy.  Outside a Hummer with Italian military stood watch.  The image was a stark reminder that Mom & I were only guests in this country.  Piazza Barberini was sweltering in the afternoon sun & Mom was underwhelmed by the Fontana del Tritone a.k.a. Triton’s Fountain so we turned northwest toward the legendary Spanish Steps.
We approached the Trinita dei Monti (the church perched atop the Spanish Steps) from Via Sistina.  Though we were quite a few blocks away, the narrow streets sublimely framed the obelisk that stood center stage.

Due to wearing a tank top (bare shoulders) I was not permitted to cross into the Trinita dei Monti, but from its entranceway I was able to capture a view of the city with the enormous St. Peter’s Basilica peaking in the background.  Like the bronze chariot from yesterday, everything was ornate.  The obelisk had a myriad of images etched on all four sides.  While wandering around, an Indian man handed Mom & me a rose each and said in broken English “For you ladies since you are so pretty.”  I experienced something similar to this situation in Mexico, so I did not even accept the flower.  Meanwhile, the man emphasized to Mom “a gift.”  A few steps later the man confronted Mom and made the gesture for money – he rubbed his thumb around his index & middle finger.  Mom had fallen for the tourist trap and retorted “You said it was a gift. Gifts are usually free!” 
 
We descended to Piazza di Spagna a.k.a. Spain’s square but could barely admire the fontana at the bottom since there were so many people.  This area also turned out to be the Rodeo Drive of Roma, with boutiques from Hermes (pronounced “air-mez”) to Ferrari.  About a block to the right of the fountain shaped like a ship was a tribute to St. Benedict, with beautiful sculpted angels surrounding the pedestal.  One of the things I enjoyed most about Roma, was that on almost every city block there was a new fountain, memorial, church or monument to capture one’s attention.
From there, Mom & I walked along Via del Babuino to Piazza del Popolo a.k.a. People’s Square.  The build up was similar to that of the Spanish Steps.  From the road, another proud obelisk dominated the view; again with a cross at the apex.  This obelisk was brought from Heliopolis in ancient Egypt.  Piazza del Popolo – the former site of public executions – was expansive since its northern edge was another one of the Aurelian gates into Roma.  Only when we turned around, did Mom & I notice the authoritative, twin churches.  Four, simple fountains of lions surrounded the obelisk, and the almost-dry Fontana del Nettuno a.k.a. Neptune’s Fountain and the Dea Roma fountain (with the Pincio Hill Gardens as the backdrop) faced each other on opposite ends of the piazza.  Like most things we had seen so far, there were elegant lamp posts scattered around the massive square that were shaped like the churches’ roofs.
At this point, Mom & I checked the map & debated what else to see.  We were already so far north.  Therefore, we could either walk back to the hotel area or continue northwest even further and eventually catch a bus/metro back.  We decided to press on.

We traversed the Porta del Popolo (another one of the Aurelian gates) and once again stepped outside the Eternal City’s protected center.  We stopped halfway across the Ponte Margherita to take in the Fiume Tevere a.k.a. Tiber River on this pleasant, Mediterranean day.  There were actual houseboats on the river, and Mom & I wondered who was the lucky person that got to live without a mortgage/property taxes in this expensive city?   
We followed Lungotevere Mellini which hugged the Tiber River.  Unlike Greece, there were no street kiosks and most places we passed were pubs.  Mom & I passed the most ornate church I saw in all of Italy… even the wrought iron fence was elaborate!  I couldn’t fathom how long it must have taken just to carve one of the church’s many statues.  We rounded the corner and faced Piazza dei Tribunali a.k.a. Tribunal Square.  This too was incredibly ornate.  Moreover, the building spanned the block in every direction, as far as the eye could see.  At every glance I noticed a new sculpture or indent in the marble.
A bit further Castel Sant’ Angelo dominated the skyline.  There was no mistaking this amazing fortress with an angel with uplifted arms and wings spread at its summit.  From far away, the castle sort of resembled a battleship, with its mast jutting into the blue heavens.  Created around 100 years after the birth of Christ, the fortress was grimy but still commanded the respect of everyone that walked in its shadow.  Up close, we saw the holes in the impenetrable walls for cannons & slits for bows and arrows.  Ironically, I later learned that President William McKinley’s monument, in my hometown of Canton, Ohio, U.S.A. was modeled after this mausoleum.  Looking back toward Roma's center, ten glorious angels – all with different poses – lined the Ponte Sant’ Angelo.  The entire scene was mesmerizing.
 
“Well, we already ventured this far. Why stop now?” were our thoughts.  On the other side of Castel Sant’ Angelo a young Italian stood with his amp and electric guitar, cranking out some blues.  The light-hearted, fluid sound was quite a juxtaposition compared to the stoic silence the fortress exuded.  Mom gave the guy some Euros and encouraged him to “Rock on”.  A block past the castle, Via della Conciliazione framed the largest, most prominent building: Basilica San Pietro a.k.a. St. Peter’s Basilica. We saw its domed ceiling from the Spanish Steps earlier and every morning we ate breakfast on the rooftop ristorante of our hotel we saw its apex soar above the other buildings.  We had arrived at the single structure that dominated Roma’s entire cityscape and the entranceway to the single city that dominated Catholicism: Vatican City.
Although Vatican City is the world’s smallest sovereign state, its courtyard easily dwarfed Piazza del Popolo in terms of size and grandeur.  In the center of Piazza San Pietro was another obelisk and two rotund fountains.  Rows of chairs were still set up from that [Sunday] morning’s mass.  Within the four rows of surprisingly simple colonnades (not what I expected from the epicenter of Christendom) were ornate lanterns that looked incredibly heavy.  Here Mom & I sought refuge from the grueling sun.  Like the Ponte Sant’ Angelo, each of the 140 saint statues atop the colonnade was in a unique pose; in keeping with the trend, the statues on the fa├žade (St. Peter’s Basilica’s balcony’s front) had disparate poses too.  I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea that Mom & I had technically crossed over into another country.  Basilica San Pietro stood like a sentinel, harboring secrets, some of the world’s most precious/oldest artifacts & Catholicism’s most holy man.  (If you are unaware of the Vatican’s hidings, I highly suggest you read -- one of my favorite books -- Angels & Demons by Dan Brown)

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