Monday, April 25, 2016

Exploring the quieter side of Rome

Since the forecast called for rain and chilly weather this weekend, I decided to skip the beach and have myself a little staycation here in Rome.  I took the opportunity to see a few sights I've had on my list for awhile.  First up - and thanks to some inspiration from a fellow Foreign Service blogger - the Cimiterio Monumentale di Verano.

The cemetary was huge, with several distinct sections.  There are a number of these stacked crypts...

Then bigger gravestones set into the wall...

Graduating to more traditional freestanding (albeit huge) gravestones like you'd see in the states...

To full out miniature houses, in many cases more than one story tall. 

These reminded me in part of the cemetaries in South America that looked like small neighborhoods, with front porches, rooms meticulously decorated with living room sets or tables set for a meal. While most of these funerary monuments weren't set up like that, many had elaborate stained glass windows and religious murals. It was also really interesting to see the architectural styles used - and their progression through the years.


Roman revival


Even contemporary.

Back in college I took a class called "Death and Dying in Cross-cultural Perspective". At the time we all thought of it as the equivalent of the famous "underwater basket weaving", but it fulfilled pretty much every random requirement simultaneously (history, culture, anthropological inquiry and whatever other weird  nonsense they had tacked on to my actual degree) so I signed up.  In the end the class was humbling and eye-opening as we learned about the various ways that cultures around the world honor their dead. Compared to other final resting places this one seems just that - restful. The overall impression it gave was one of a peaceful neighborhood with treelined streets, a bit disheveled and overgrown but in a comfortable sort of way - full of well-loved, and well-lived, families.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Ostia Antica

File this one under "Convenient day trips from Rome". This weekend I visited Ostia Antica, a Roman port town (now a bit inland due to changes in the coastline).  I'd definitely recommend a visit if you're in Rome more than a few days and even though ruins aren't my favorite these were fairly well-preserved and gave a gratifyingly well-rounded impression of life in ancient Rome. 

While it initially sounded complicated to get there, the whole trip (there and back) only cost 3 euros so it was worth the minor stress of figuring out the tram, metro, regional train combo. The transit from Rome was about 45 minutes-1 hour. 

So, impressions:

As with modern Italians, the ancient Romans knew how to live.  While the town was sadly lacking in movie theaters, it was chock full of baths (I guess that was just as fun?), shops and bars. There was a big theater and while no Colosseum it could apparently still put together a passable water show, so they seem pretty set entertainment wise, Hollywood or no.

Even the individual homes show an approach to life that emphasized socializing, appreciation for the arts, and relaxation. A far cry from the storied protestant work ethic!

Take the above house for instance - there was a lovely garden with fountains and statues, an open porch, a big entertaining room with tiled floors (below) that put my modern floor in Rome to shame, and then 3-4 little rooms on the side. It was no mansion, but somehow they decided they had the space to give this sweet little statue it's own room. (Maybe this is what I should do with my own awkward extra room...)

The sense of beauty and luxury is even more remarkable given that quarters were kind of close. Most apartments were tiny and even in larger homes the rooms themselves were small.  And the population was fairly dense. I don't remember the exact figure, but 20-50,000 people would have lived in the space no bigger than the town of 1200 where I grew up.

And lets not forget that these were the days when even people who were lucky enough to have sewage systems had to share them with everyone in town

Must have been chummy, no?

The real highlight for me, in addition to puzzling out the ancient Romans' floorplans, were the incredibly still preserved mosaics. They really are beautiful too - the pictures still seem fresh today - though the naked guys at the gym motif seems to have fallen out of favor since then.

I'm actually really suspicious about this soccer ball though. Just saying...

Even Lady Liberty was there!

I will save you the mosaics involving scatological humor, but I just want to let you know that this was apparently also a big theme.

Also, if you visit please stop by this small out of the way temple and say hi to Mr. Tumnus (i.e. Pan)

That's about it! Ciao!

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Spring, spotted.

What's that on my street?

And outside my window?

Can it be? 

Spring is actually, definitely, finally here and I am thrilled to death.

(Happy sigh.)

So throw open the shutters...

Put on your party hat...

Hop in the Fiat...

And come join the throngs. ;)