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January 23, 2005

ruins are cool

Like, really, really cool. There I was standing in the Palatino, after having walked through the Colosseum, and staring at the Roman forum. So like, first off, how cool is it that these things are thousands of years old. But even more than that, they're huge. Really, truly, just freaking huge. And you know what I'm thinking about? Construction cranes. Seriously. Like how they use them for much smaller buildings these days that will be lucky to last a hundred years, and these guys built these things a few thousand years ago without construction cranes.

I have a new appreciation for engineers. Or, at least, for two thousand year old engineers. I mean, holy crap. Seriously impressive stuff.

I went to an opera last night. La Traviata. It was in an old church between the Piazza d'Espagne and the Piazza di Popoli. Very entertaining and it made me feel like less of a Philistine about the whole not appreciating art thing.

The church was also the most austere I've been in since arriving in Rome. Which isn't to say that it's actually austere. Far from it. But in comparison to the others, there were walls that were just brick and not covered in paint and mosaic and such.

Which brings me to another appreciation. That of the bathrooms of all the Italian-Americans I grew up around. If you're from my neck of the woods, you know exactly what I'm talking about. The shiny, colorful, busy wallpaper. The ornate, marble-topped little table for holding all manner of fancy soaps and silk flower arrangements and decorate handtowels. The gold-framed mirrors. The wall-hangings. Just the sheer amount of stuff to look at in a powder room that always amazed me. Well, it's apparently not some affected middle-class arriviste neurosis being played out. It's just in their blood. I mean, you go into churches and villas and the like here and anything with surface is decorated, usually in multiple ways. Plain walls with no frescoes? Let's paint false marbling on them? Marble walls? Let's use six or seven different clashing colors of marble in five or six different patterns. Two foot panel of wall between marble columns? Oh, I know. Let's paint vines and monkeys and urns on them. Ceiling? Well, obviously some creation myth needs to go there. Duh. It's like there is a genetically inbred impulse to cover every surface with as much decoration as possible. Italians, apparently, don't believe in understatement as an interior design motif.

Nor do they seem to believe in understatement as a fashion motif. I have never seen so many people wearing so much fur, gold, white leather, huge sunglasses, spike heels and pointed toes shoes. And in some cases, it works, but in most, I'm kind of left with the impression that I'm missing something in not wanting to emulate the whole Donatella Versace look. Oh well. Which isn't to say I haven't made a few fine purchases, including some mauve suede spike heels that I'm crazy about and will go really well with the mauve and brown wool miniskirt I found yesterday. Lucky for me, Italians are also under the impression that pink is the new black.

One more thing. I haven't taken that many photos since getting here, though I was thinking that would sort of be the theme for this trip. It's just that most things I could take pictures of have been photographed up the ying-yang, and I don't think there is much I could add to what better photographers have already done. And the rest of it, well, honestly, I just couldn't capture in a photograph, for various reasons, like the impact of my walk through the Villa Borghese the other day, or the sound of a dozen or so crows spashing in the little stream through it. There are images that have had an impact on me, like an old woman, lying on a piece of cardboard, barely propping herself up on one arm and crying as she held her hand out for money. I couldn't photograph that, and I wouldn't want to, but I'm not going to forget that image. Nor could I capture in any real sense the massiveness of the ruins and the realization that all those buildings that remain, at least in part, so many centuries later were planned with no CAD programming, with no construction cranes. It's kind of awe-inspiring.

I sound like a dork. But really, I'm not getting all new-agy goofy and reflective. It's just that I've spent so much time walking around and looking at things and not thinking about things that aren't right in front of me. I needed this trip.

Tomorrow I leave for Florence. I haven't a clue where my pensione is, though. This could be interesting...

Love to you all!

Posted by paulette at January 23, 2005 09:47 AM | TrackBack
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what you describe as being hard to photograph is known as street photography (photography of people). it's hard for anyone to do. as for the things that have been photographed many times before, don't worry about them. when you see a good photo, take it--the best photos you take won't be of the overphotographed landmarks, they'll be what you are able to creatively compose yourself. just snap away...

Posted by: ron on January 23, 2005 04:32 PM

On our recent trip to Tuscany, there was talk of us getting to Rome for the day. I actually lay awake thinking about whether or not I was going to take the camera with me for exactly the reasons you discuss. Though I agree with Ron, there are street scenes - the kind of things you describe so well - that are worthy of having a camera in hand for. Ultimately, I came to the decision that I was going to leave the camera behind and just use my eyeballs.

We didn't make it to Rome, but I stand by my conclusion for the next time I have the chance to go.

Posted by: pam on January 23, 2005 11:16 PM

I will say, though, that in Paris in 2003 I took a couple of shots of the Eiffel Tower with my cheap digital camera that really were postcard-worthy... that can be quite satisfying! But for the most part I agree. I did get some great snaps in Rome--my favorite being a back alley where someone had dumped a life-size Pink Panther doll with sawdust spilling out where the neck had snapped. I'll never forget that photograph!

Posted by: jay on January 25, 2005 02:03 PM
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