Leaving Venice was a lot harder than I had anticipated. I’d fallen for the place, hard, and with the expectation of Rome ahead, I can’t really say I was looking forward to taking off. Rome was a bit of a challenge, if only because my paranoia had been turned up to 11 by every third word in my guidebook being “thief” or “pickpocket” or “involuntary vehicular manslaughter.” Not exactly an auspicious way to begin things, is it? Yeah, I didn’t think so, either.
As predicted, Rome was gruling. It was hot — hotter than I’ve ever been, anywhere, and I’ve been to the desert in the summer. It was like stepping off an airplane in Texas in the middle of August and trying to breathe mayo. Hot and humid, I saw thermometers reading above 34, and if I get home to discover that Europe was in the grip of a senior-citizen-killing heat wave, I totally won’t be shocked.
Rome was also awful. Every damn thing required effort. The people were unhelpful in a way that made me think malice had to be involved (but probably, on second reflection, wasn’t). Going anywhere required a lineup, and frequently a long lineup. K. and I spent 2:15 in line to see the Vatican Museum, all of it in the sun, and all of it surrounded by a couple thousand of our close, personal friends. Thank god for the shortcut at the end of the Sistine Chapel that leads directly into the Basillica; we might never have made it out of there alive otherwise. It was so hot that by the beginning of our third day, we’d had enough of our cheap apartment without air conditioning and splurged on a hotel room (which, in true Rome style, was way the hell out in the middle of nowhere).
To be sure, the ancient stuff is… ancient. Not being of Judeo-Christian extraction I can’t really comment on the movingness of the Sistine Chapel or of St. Peter’s Basillica, but I can appreciate (a) age and (b) aesthetic beauty. The Chapel, in particular, is fascinating because of the work that went into it, and, knowing a bit about how much of a pain in the ass it was for Michelangelo makes it a bit more special. The Vatican has a nice collection of art but much of it is junk; I was much happier in the Belvedere in Vienna with the Klimts and Schieles, though I will give Raphael props for his exquisitly decorated rooms.
Unfortunately the Sistine Chapel is a no-photo zone. Which is fine, because the ceiling is too far away to get a meaningfully good picture. And they enforce it with guards, too, which is apparently necessary because a lot of people out there seem to think the no-photo rule applies to everyone except them. While watching the flashes pop (I mean, really), I wondered how damn stupid you have to be in order to do something like that. It’s a little like trying to think about how stupid you’d have to be to try smoking in an airplane bathroom but I apparently flew home with that guy from Tokyo a couple years ago, so I dunno. Afterwards I amused myself while walking back to our apartment by mentally composing a Cory Doctorow-style rant about the Vatican’s no-photo policy and, weirdly, came out on the Vatican’s side. (Not that this means much, mind you; I find I’m almost always on the other side of an issue from Cory.) The best part is that the no-photo policy came out of an agreement the Vatican made with the company that restored the frescos, so it’s not like its their policy, either! (You can see why this made for such a lovely Cory-rant.)
And to make matters worse, the Vatican apparently believes you can appreciate the splendor and beauty of the place with a thousand or so other people. WRONG. The Chapel desperately needs some kind of queuing system, though I guess after 2:15 in a lineup outside to get in another line might drive people to riot. Too many people talking too much (provoking the ire of the guards, again) makes for a decidely weird experience.
The frescos themselves are great. Bright, vivid, everything I’d been lead to believe they were not. It’s amazing what a few centuries of candle soot will do to something; I’m told people who saw them, pre-restoration, gasped when they saw the restored images. I can believe it.
I don’t have a whole lot else to say about Rome. I didn’t enjoy it, though people whose opinions I trust and respect seem to have exactly the opposite to say about the place, so I’m prepared to give it a second chance. But in the middle of the summer, on this trip, I wasn’t sorry to leave and arrive in the Cinque Terre, Italy’s Riviera.
This place… words aren’t enough. Five cute towns in the hills overlooking the Ligurian Sea, with beautiful beaches, warm waters, amazingly awesome food… what else do you want to know? Damn Rick Steves’ oily hide for making this place more popular! Our first choice town, Vernazza, was full and we weren’t able to get a reservation, so we ended up in Riomaggiore, which is to the south; a bigger town, but a lot quieter, and with blessedly fewer tourists. Vernazza, the Rickster’s “crown jewel,” is indeed nice (we had dinner there last night and are going back tonight) but damn is it ever noisy around the station (thanks, Trenitalia!) and it was so jammed full of tourists today that K. was grateful we didn’t end up staying there. (All of them, incidentally, packing a copy of Europe Through The Back Door.) We’ve taken the train the last two days to Monterosso, the most resorty of the towns, to lie on the beach and play in the surf, and holy frijoles, have we ever needed it. This is a vacation. Yeah, bitchez. I’m coming back here, you hear me?
Tomorrow we begin a nine-hour train trip out of Italy into Provence, which will be interesting: After two and a half weeks of being disoriented and having to guess at signs in Turkish, German, and Italian (usually with pretty good success),we’ll be in a comprehensible land once more. Two nights in Arles are followed by four in Paris, and for the first time since I was last in Montreal, over a decade ago, I’m going to have to make use of my French skills. Yahoo! Let’s find out how bilingual I still am!
And, on a personal note, I’d like to cite something here that drives me bananas: 41-39, .513, 2 games back of first place. I go and leave the Mariners in a state of total uselessness, and suddenly they discover how to play baseball again? Geez. At this rate, I’m gonna have to move to Uganda before they win the World Series.