Day 3 – Truly Roman Experiences
By now (Thursday) we had established a good working routine: meet at a pre-determined location at 11:00, walk all over the set area until about 01:30; then have a loooong break for lunch; after which the geriatric old bag (me)would head back to her B&B for a siesta.
Today we had planned to look at the area around the Piazza Sant’Ignazio, as the headquarters of the Roma Carabinieri Art Fraud Division is located in the square opposite. We arranged to meet on the steps surrounding the famous Egyptian obelisk in front of the Pantheon. When I wandered up, N. was sitting there contemplating the fake gladiators having their photos taken with the tourists. She is always early and had already been inside to take her pictures.
It was hot and I needed a restorative, so we slipped through an alley to the Sant’Eustachio Café, which is famous for the quality and depth of the foam on its coffee. We had barely finished our espressos, which were excellent, when the advance guard of a party of German–speaking tourists made their presence known. Bit by bit, indifferent to the concerns or feelings of the other patrons, this self-referenced group expanded, filching chairs and adding members, a malignant amoeba overwhelming the café forecourt with noise and bodies. It was time for us to make a move.
We slipped gratefully into the echoing quiet of the Chiesa Sant’Eustachio, said to have been founded by the Emperor Constantine, making it one of the older basilicas in Rome. It provided a welcome relief from the braying Germans.
Leaving the church, we paid our respects to the elephant fountain, a joyous bit of Bernini nonsense and then went quickly into Santa Maria sopra Minerva, which, as the name tells us, is a Christian basilica plopped on top of an older temple to the Roman virgin goddess of warriors & wisdom. Sometime between 1555 – 1559, Pope Paul IV ordered a bronze loincloth attached to the genitals on Michelangelo statue of Christ holding up his cross. What a hypocritical old prude he must have been.
Then it was off to Sant’Ignazio - the piazza and the chiesa. After a few minutes contemplation of the Carabinieri Headquarters we headed into the church, making this a three church day. It seemed to me stunningly appropriate that the police officers dedicated to chasing down art criminals should be watched over by Saint Ignatius of Loyola, Spanish founder of the Jesuits, one of the most superbly rational bodies of thinkers the Western church has ever thrown up. The interior of the church was awash in elaborately carved marble: draperies of polished stone, like frozen velvet, angel flesh so glossy and warm looking I wanted to reach out and caress it. After gorging our senses on this cornucopia of stone fantasies, we reluctantly returned to the glare and noise of midday Rome. It was time for lunch.
As we were not far away, N. suggested that we realise her promise to introduce me to carciofi alla giudea. A ten minute walk brought us to La Taverna del Ghetto, a fitting destination, as it was the egregious Paul IV who, when he wasn’t desecrating art masterpieces, busied himself with creating the Jewish ghetto in Rome. To say that the artichoke was wonderful, doesn’t begin to describe the tangy crunch of the whole plant, slightly flattened and then deep fried to perfection. N. said I was to eat all of it, which is good as I might have needed forcible restraint to keep from devouring it.
*N. has just given me a link to a recipe and the calorie count is a whooping 1155 k's - Ouch!
The day was warm, the wine was tasty, the conversation scintillating and it was soon pushing three o’clock. Time to head for home. We walked through the remnants of the now ended Campo de’ Fiori market to a piazza where we could get a bus to Termini. From there, I, now foolishly proud of my growing mastery of the Roman bus system, jumped on a #31 – headed towards Prati and strait into the start of the three day manifestatzione against Senor Berlusconi’s education policies.
As we crawled down via Nazionale, it began to seem as if this conflagration surrounding us was more than the usual Roman traffic. At last, unable to move further, the bus stopped, the driver got out to talk to a colleague and half the passengers got off. My feet were hurting; I had a front facing seat by the window; no one had told me the bus was terminated; so I remained in my seat. After little more than ten minutes the driver got back into his place and we moved forward, slowly, very slowly. Eventually we reached the Lungotevere, the major traffic artery the runs beside the Tiber and started to inch our way north. By now the bus was packed. Standees were jammed up against each other. Somehow a rumour started that ‘because of the mainifestazione’, the bus would not continue onto Pizza Claudio, its supposed destination. Panicked, about a third of the passengers fought their way off at the next stop. A particularly unattractive red head, who had been eagerly disseminating the rumour, claimed a seat with a smirk - not mine obviously. I had seen the police blocking the entrance to all streets heading back into old Rome and had guessed that there was no way such a story could be true.
Two hours after leaving Termini Station we reached the Ponte Cavour, turned left and sped across the Tiber. Like a greyhound released from a cage the bus roared into flight and in 10 minutes, we charging up via della Giuliana, when I noticed that we were approaching my street – Success – total success! I had found my way home and survived a Roman manifestatzione!
As before, all photos courtesy of Spacedlaw, except the scanned business card.