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January 21, 2005

sono a roma

Which is to say, I'm in Rome. Today was my first day here, since yesterday was spent mostly being lost in Amsterdam. I am choosing to blame my inability to orient myself on the bad feng shui in my building at work. No matter how many times I looked at my map yesterday, I couldn't manage to not wind up somewhere other than where I was expecting to be. (On a related note, I can't seem to get my head around my hotel being to the west of Termini Station here in Rome; it just feels like it's to the south, which keeps throwing me off.)

Case in point. I had decided to go the Rijksmuseum, since it was one of the sites I had missed the last time I was in Amsterdam. There were signs pointing the way to the Museumplein every so often, and there were maps, albeit confusing and overlapping ones, in my giudebook. So it should not have been a particularly difficult task to accomplish. But the bad orientation karma I've inherited from Building 18 seems to have followed me across the ocean. I walked along the specified route, passed through the Rembrandtplein, and continued, following the signs toward the Museumplein, which, curiously, also pointed in the same direction for the Centraal Station, where I had disembarked from the train and started out in the first place.

Not to worry. Maybe space just bends differently in the Netherlands. I continue following the signs, and it's quite a bit further than I had expected. Then the signs start point in the same direction for the Museumplein and the Rembrandtplein, which, really, they shouldn't have, because I'd already been to the latter. But they did, and sure enough, I passed through the Rembrandtplein again, from a different direction than the one I'd arrived through before. I follow the signs again, and, lo and behold, wind up there a third time, at which point I decided to go to the Anne Frank Huis, using the map in my guide book which had been oh so helpful in finding the museum. This time, though, twenty minutes later, I was standing in from the Rijksmuseum. Go figure.

But you know, museums like that just don't do it for. I can admire the skill of the old masters--how they can capture the light and depth of a scene and all--but they just leave me cold. I guess I'm just a philistine, but I just don't really get paintings. Or at least old ones. I seem like modern art museums, but then again, the ones that I really love are as much about loving the architecture (Renzo Piano's fantastic Beauborg or Fran Gehry's Guggenheim Bilbao, for example) as about the art.

Really, I'd much rather look at buildings. Or, as it would turn out, parks.

I saw a bunch today in Rome, the Spanish Steps, the Panteon, the Piazza Navona, Trevi Fountain, the Piazza di Popoli, the Etruscan museum, but the real highlight of the day, and my favorite thing in Rome so far is the Villa Borghese park. It's huge, and houses the Borghese Museum which is impressive, to say the least, nearly every inch of it covered in elaborate marble designs, frescoes, intarsia, and mosaics. But the park itself in truly incredible, and for the first time made me appreciate the artistry in landscape design.

That sounds silly, I think. Or not quite stating the point sufficiently, but really, this park is fantastic.

You walk up a hill from the Piazza di Popoli and there's an incredible view of the city spread out before you. You turn and walk into the park and, alternately pass through green areas studded with varieties of trees in patterns that are comforting and rhythmic as you pass by, without feeling rigidly laid out. You walk along wide collonades toward fountains or sculptures. Then happen upon a big open area with plane trees stretching out toward the blue sky against a terra cotta colored villa. And you realize that the park is like a piece of music with tempo changes, or sets for a play. The scenery guides you through different movements. You're looking out at everything laid out below you for a while, and then the focus shifts to following a path toward a clear destination, and then, suddenly, everything is open and reaching upward. The effect is really powerful, and relaxing. Maybe it's like being guided through different levels of meditation.

Now I'm sounding hokey, but I'm finally appreciating why Frederick Law Olmstead was such a stickler (which, I realize, is something of an understatement) for having his parks match exactly his vision--every tree the right species and in the righ place, every flower the right color, every walkway laid out exactly as specified. And I'm so glad that he was that way, and that there were other landscape architects with that kind of vision. Especially since it sort of makes up for my being too much of a lout to appreciate a Caravaggio.

More later, my dears. I hope you're all doing well.


Posted by paulette at January 21, 2005 09:38 AM | TrackBack
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Oh, this makes me want to be in Rome SO BAD! Glad you are having such a wonderful time! Yogi is having a pretty good time too.

Posted by: jay on January 21, 2005 10:07 AM

I'm SO glad to hear Yogi is having fun. It's only fair that he gets a good vacation while his mama is off having fun, too. Jay, thank you SO much for recommending the Villa Borghese museum. It was phenomenal, and to think I might have missed it. Tomorrow, btw, is the vatican.

Posted by: paulette on January 21, 2005 10:15 AM

Watch out for those umbrella sellers at the metro entrace by the spanish steps. And how are the Roman's doing? :)

Posted by: S on January 21, 2005 01:59 PM

Thanks Paulette, it sounds wonderful!

Y'know, now that I think about it, when I was backpacking around Europe it was a general trend that the US tourists tended to get lost when walking around in ways that the European tourists didn't (even if they were new to the city).

I have a hypothesis about why that is: in the US, streets are almost always straight, but in Europe, especially in the old cities, they tend to curve. So while in the US if you're on a street that heads west, as you walk down it you'll keep heading west.

But in Europe, you could enter a street heading west and end up at the end heading north. Or what's more likely to confuse is that you end up heading west-north-west -- a small difference, but that means you probably don't notice it. Travel down a few more streets and the deviations start to add up, until your internal compass is off by 90 degrees.

Anyway, that's my hypothesis.

Posted by: David on January 21, 2005 03:29 PM

Paulette, I don't know your itinerary, but don't you dare come through Austria without letting me know you're here. Just don't. You know how to find me, I hope.

Posted by: pam on January 22, 2005 08:23 AM
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