Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Travelogue – entertaining the Pope

The first order of business today was laundry. The hotel directed me to a place, but it looked to be the kind of place where they did it all for me and charged accordingly. I had passed sheets of paper posted on walls advertising something like “Lavender Laundry and Internet Spot.” An interesting combination. The person there said it would cost the equivalent of $17 and take three hours. That was steep! I asked if he knew other places and he said there were several somewhere around the train station (a few blocks away) but he wasn't anymore specific than that. I trudged onward, my big suitcase behind me (though it only had dirty clothes in it). After asking someone and taking a wrong turn I found a place. This one was $9 and would take 1.5 hours. He would do the work.

I went over to the train station and bought my ticket for Florence for Sunday. It will be 90 minutes on a high speed train. I paid cash because it asked for the PIN on my credit card and I don't know what that is (which keeps me from withdrawing money with it and paying huge interest rates).

A colleague at school (who has spent summers in Italy) and guidebooks recommend seeing the town of Siena. Since I now have an extra day in Rome, I thought I could spend tomorrow in Siena as a day-trip, even though it is much closer to Florence. Alas, no fast trains to small towns. My colleague had described it as a “chooka-chooka” train, said it would stop at every small town, and implied there would be no AC. It would take 3.5 hours to get there (though it is closer than Florence). So, spend 7 hours (round trip) in a sweltering train and pay $60 for the privilege? I'll skip Siena.

Laundry done, I headed back to the hotel to drop it off. I found the window open, letting in the hot air. Sigh. Back to the street for lunch, then on to...

Villa Borghese was once the home and grounds of the Borghese family. The grounds have been turned into a big city park (including a zoo). Here is part of the zoo entrance.

The home has become an art gallery. The guy was rich (nephew of a pope) and wanted someplace to entertain bigwig guests, something suitably showy. So he commissioned all the art in the home as well as paintings on the ceiling. This is one of those places where one must look at the walls, the ceiling, and the floor. Much of the art on the main floor is statues. On the upper floor it is paintings. It is curious that while one of those guests would have been the pope, a good deal of the art is secular, much of that portraying Greek myths, some rather erotic.

The best known statues are by Bernini, the same guy who designed St. Peter's Square. The one at the top of my list is his statue of David. We're all familiar with David by Michelangelo, who appears to be sizing up the situation as his confrontation with Goliath approaches. Bernini's David shows the lad about a half-second before the stone is released, body twisted with effort and face scrunched in concentration. One looks at that and thinks (or says), “Wow!” That is an amazing piece of art! Alas, cameras are not even allowed in the gallery. I bought a postcard, well, a few to include some of the other Bernini statues.

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