Friday, February 27, 2009

My Trip to Italy - A Poem

Some thoughts upon leaving the hotel enroute to Vatican City: I love these old buildings with their peeling facades, broken yet still standing, with years and years of living packed into their walls. There is beauty in their decay; strength in their crumbling; wisdom in their silent reflection of past glory. And all this while hosting yet another new generation of tenants, who will add yet another chapter to their story. Of course, it inspired a poem.

Old Walls

I love old walls
draped in greenery
their peeling faces
squinting out of past pain
broken but never vanquished.

Smothered in stories
heavy with hope
they smile indulgently
at another new age.

History lies buried
beneath their feet.
Layer after layer
speak volumes of
glory and despair.

Yet old walls survive
as witness
to one more
display of
that is

© E.M. Ramos 2/27/2009

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

My Trip to Italy - Day 2 - Roma

Day 2 - Roma

After the Vatican, we were off on a tour of the center of Rome: the Colosseum, the Piazza di Venezia, with its ornate (wedding cake) monument to Victor Emmanuel II, the first King of Italy. Every city in Italy has 2 statues: one of Victor Emmanuel II and one of Garibaldi. But Rome's monument is immense, like everything about Rome. I loved Francesco’s tour of the Forum, especially the story of the Vestal Virgins’ temple – they were powerful women; and how hard could it be to keep a light burning? I enjoyed his explanations of our words and their derivations from right here in Rome, especially the origin of the word “forum”. Francesco had so many great stories: e.g. why the Pope has Swiss Guards and the real story of the history of Rome. After dinner, we went on a night tour of Rome, so beautiful all lit up. Especially the dome of St. Peter’s illuminated and softly floating above, reflected in the light, a flock of birds.

There are great photos of our trip on "my daughter's blog" - click on to the link on my sidebar.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

My Trip to Italy - Day 2 - Vatican City

Day 2 – Vatican City

The second day we were on the go from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. An exhausting and exhilarating day! I love Roma and its ancient feel. Everything is so huge – maybe it’s the presence of thousands of years of civilization – one after the other: Etruscans; Romans: Republic and Empire; Christian Rome; kingdoms and finally, very recently, the united Italian nation. I am learning so much about Italy’s heritage, which is our own heritage.

And what stories! Thanks to our remarkable guides, Margaret and today, Francesco, we are grasping what a proud history this country has. So through the walls (I love how Rome and Vatican City are surrounded by ancient walls) to Vatican City, the smallest country in Europe. The Popes used to control a much larger country through the middle ages till very recently – 1929. In fact the other day on February 11th they celebrated the 80 year anniversary of the agreement that established their present territory.

Francesco took over as we entered the Vatican Museum. This is the advantage of a great guide. So informative, he made all the works of art, as well as the history of the Vatican, come alive. Our “whispers” (techy listening devices) enable us to hear the lecture in the midst of buzzing crowds. Marina took lots of pictures of the priceless artwork the Church has collected over the centuries. There were times I shuddered over the apparent rampant materialism of so many popes, so un-Christlike. But who am I to judge? The good news is so many commissioned masterpieces (like the Sistine Chapel) and so many works of art preserved and now shared with us all to appreciate and savor.

Francesco explained the stories behind the Greek statues, the paintings, the mosaics, the tapestries and the frescoes. I felt overwhelmed by such a wealth of creative genius. He spent a lot of time on Michelangelo (who lived to age 89!) and Rafael who died tragically at age 36. Both were prodigies and recognized early in life by wealthy patrons. And we inherit their magnificent work as a result. What a treat to view the Rafael rooms – I think he is definitely a favorite for me. You can see his evolution in style. My favorite Rafael is the painting of the risen Christ, softly glowing in white, surrounded by saints – so hopeful and such a contrast to Michelangelo’s last judgment in the Sistine Chapel which shows his progression from youthful idealism to older pessimism, colored by the sad suffering of the times. That fresco is very scary – not many are saved in this “last judgment”. Interesting detail: Michelangelo paints the face of one Hell dweller with the likeness of a Cardinal who gave him agita when he was not so powerful an artist. Payback is rewarding.

I liked the Sistine Chapel much more than last time I was here – Francesco’s insights make a big difference. He pointed out that God is painted in against a background like a “brain” showing his gift of intelligence to his creation – man. But I saw something more. Encasing the “brain” is a red shape, which to me symbolized a palate: creativity, another gift to man.

After the museums we visited St. Peter’s Basilica, which knocks me out by its huge space, colossal statues, and remarkable mosaics. Marina took many photos of the Pieta. One thing, I feel too rushed. Sometimes I don’t have time to breathe, much less spend time savoring all these treasures. Lucky teens who are traveling to Europe so early in life and will be able to come back and spend more time with these treasures.

Memories: the Holy Spirit window in marble that acts like stained glass; the Bernini columns embracing St. Peter’s Square; the fountains backlit by the afternoon sun. A gorgeous Roman day, unlike rainy yesterday. Loved lunch in the Vatican cafeteria – had zuppa and artichokes and a Coke Light. Bought lots of medals which they blessed at the Vatican and sent to our hotel.

Friday, February 20, 2009

My Trip to Italy - Day 1

My Trip to Italy

This blog starts with an ending. Marina and I returned home from Italy yesterday. And what a wonderful experience it was. Starting today my blogs for the next week or so will be all about our trip, as taken from my journal.

Feb. 11th Well here I am in Rome. With Marina. After hectic packing and re-packing we got to JFK in plenty of time. Sister Pat introduced Marina to Charlene and Maria; they hit it off immediately, chatting and giggling. The CHS girls are so curious about Marina’s being homeschooled.

It was a nice flight via Alitalia although no room for feet or to rest your head – so I got no sleep. Arrived very tired but we were off on a tour of Rome right away. Crazy weather: sun, clouds, rain, hail – like a cold April. Noticed how the cars are so much smaller here. (Those Smart cars are so cute!) Beautiful piazzas and ancient buildings where people live in apartments. Our walking tour included: Piazza Navona with Bernini’s spectacular fountains, the Fontana del Moro and the Fontana dei Quatro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers). You can check out my daughters blog (see sidebar) for pictures. I loved the church of St. Agnes in this square with its fantastic artwork and decorated ceiling.

Margaret, our tour guide, is so good, leading us through back alleys and clueing us in on bargains and practical advice. Visited the Pantheon and this is just awesome. A 2000 year old structure, completed by the Emperor Hadrian in A.D. 128, it is in great shape and simply breathtaking. It has the largest domed ceiling, larger than St. Peter’s and is a masterpiece of Roman engineering. I liked the opening hole in the center of the dome that lets in light.

Visited the Spanish Steps and thought of my last trip here with my friend Arleen back in 1992. I even went back to one of our old haunts – McDonalds, with a classic Roman motif. Still the only free toilet around! Memorable moments of our first day: Lunch guy giving us a “break” and a gelato; the girls taking pictures with the local carbonieri (state police); the obelisk and Trevi Fountain. All the sculptures are so gorgeous…and huge. My impression of Rome: ancient, beautiful and huge!

Monday, February 9, 2009

My Trip to Italy - Anticipation

Tomorrow we are off to Italy! Thanks to the invitation of my good friend Sister Pat and the Cathedral HS Travel Club. When I return, I will have lots of stories to share. Here is the itinerary:

Rome - A tour as soon as we arrive of the Spanish Steps, which I remember well from my first trip to Italy. Next day, a visit to Vatican City, St. Peter's, and the Sistine Chapel. Then a tour of Imperial Rome and the Colosseum, plus the Trevi Fountain and the Pantheon.

Florence - A guided tour of the Piazza della Signoria, Uffizi Palace, the Ponte Vecchio and the Chiesa di Santa Croce. How exciting to see the Duomo, Giotto's campanile (bell tower), and Ghiberti's famous bronze doors, the Gates of Paradise.

Pisa - Of course we will see the Leaning Tower, as well as the cathedral.

Venice - Off to Venice and St. Mark's Square, the Grand Canal, the 324 foot campanile, the famous clock, and the Doges' Palace. We'll also see a glass blowing demonstration. By the way, it's Carnivale!

Assisi - So happy to be visiting the birthplace of St. Francis and St. Clare. We'll see the Basilica of St. Francis with Giotto's wonderful frescoes.

Spoleto - We explore a medieval town and then back to Rome. And next day, we fly back home!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Winter Blahs

This winter is really getting to me. Last week I had trouble opening my car door. The locks freeze when we have a wet snow and de-icer doesn't work. Finally got the passenger door opened and began driving to the train station, when the door flies open. I pulled over and discovered that now, the door wouldn't close! Until I locked it again. When I parked, I couldn't get the door open from inside. I was trapped! So I climbed into the back seat with my heavy coat and boots. It wasn't easy. I am getting too old to be climbing over seats. At last I got one of the back doors open so I could escape. I was so afraid I would not be able to get back into the car that I left it unlocked.

Then I thought. I am really sick of winter and there's still two more months to go. Now I know why seniors (like me) retire to warm climates. Happily, I got the car started for a trip to see "South Pacific" with my friend Pat and her Bronxville senior group on January 21st. More about that later. And even better, I am looking forward to my Italy trip with my granddaughter next week. Hope it's warmer there!