Saturday, April 30, 2011


Buon giorno! I spent the past 4 days in Rome with Jeffrey Atkinson ’12, and invited him to guest edit this blog post.
We had a busy itinerary:
21/4 (Thursday): Walked around Rome at night
22/4: Colosseum, Pantheon, Trastevere (the less touristy Rome), Good Friday mass in St. Celia (from 300 AD!)
23/4: Vatican museum, Sistine Chapel, Roman Forum
24/4: Easter Sunday mass in St. Peter’s Square, St. Peter’s Basilica, Borghese Gallery

Famous landmarks

I’ll begin with pictures of famous landmarks in Rome. No explaination needed. (Ed. note: well, they're really interesting, but you can look them up on your own.)


St. Peters square (oval)

Easter Sunday Mass

Before arriving in Rome, we arranged with the office of American visitors to the Vatican to receive our tickets for Easter Mass in St. Peter’s Square (hosted by ‘Papà Benedetto’ XVI, our tickets read).
We actually saw the Pope twice in Rome, first while trying to cross an intersection that was blocked off – all the pedestrians were waiting on the sidewalk for some reason we couildn’t quite discern. Suddenly, a police motorbike sped by at 50 miles per hour or more, followed by three more bikes and three SUVs. A black Maserati sedan flashed by, offering the impatient crowd a glimpse of a white-robed figure in the back of the well-lit interior... Hey, that’s the Pope, we exclaimed. The pedestrians started clapping, although they seemed as surprised as us. It was a surreal moment for a random street corner in Rome – a good thing we didn’t try to cross the street in front of the police!

The second time was, obviously, expected: we woke up early on Sunday to line up at the Vatican for Easter Mass.
I think this picture was taken when the Pope said “Happy Easter, Christ has risen” in Spanish, as evidenced by some Chilean flags waving.

Even if you’re not Catholic, Christian, or religious, there’s something powerful about thousands of people from across the world gathered, at times in almost complete silence.  Some proudly carried their country’s flags into the square – symbols of thei r culture rather than government, and cheered at the end when a short Easter message was read in their language out of the dozens represented.

Blobs, umbrellas, flowers

What do all these things have in common? They’re all popular items sold by street vendors all over Rome. These street vendors are at times annoying, but also entertaining

Blobs: turn the corner into a piazza, and you’ll see a man flinging an animal-shaped gel blob into the ground. Apparently kids like the fact that the flat shapes the blob forms when it hits the ground. Jeff says he saw this same random product all over Trento and other places he’s travelled in Italy. So… here’s our theory: some centralized distributor must supply these toys all over Italy. And why the blob? Because some factory, likely Chinese, overproduced these toys this year, and so the distributor could buy them at really cheap prices

Umbrellas: one time, it started raining in Trevi fountain. In less than 2 minutes, tens of street vendors appeared selling umbrellas. We saw one guy trying to sell umbrellas to a man who already had an umbrella.
  • Vendor: only 2 euro, buy this umbrella
  • Man: “I already have an umbrella”
  • Vendor: “Then buy this super compact foldable umbrella” [pulls out small umbrella]
  • Man: “I have the  same one. Your colleague sold me one earlier”
  • Vendor: “Then buy this even bigger umbrella to protect you from the rain even more!” [pulls out huge, noncollapsible umbrella]

Flowers. Everytime in a restaurant, we had street vendors walking into the restaurant, trying to help couples increase the romantic setting by selling them flowers. And the waiters didn’t care at all!

The most  ridiculous situation happened on the Spanish steps, apparently the place all romantic young couples go in the evening:

The street vendor, eyeing a young French couple trying to take photos of themselves, offers to take pictures for them.

They refuse. But their fatal error- instead of ignoring the street vendor, they make eye contact.
Street vendor then offers the couple flowers. The woman politely says no thanks. Error #2: she should’ve just said no and walked away.

Street vendor tries another strategy. He continuously offers the couple flowers by putting the flowers into the woman’s hands, saying “it’s OK, it’s OK”, implying he’s given up selling the flowers, and since it was late at night with no on else around, willing to give them out for free. Again, woman is too polite, and wanting to stop the annoying vendor, finally gives in, takes the flowers.

The couple tries walking away, is politely followed by the street vendor (this time he heckles the man), who reminds them everytime they try to kiss that the flowers are still unpaid! 

The lone street vendor, politely following the couple. After all, they still have to pay for the flowers!

This ridiculous situation continues for 20 minutes until the couples gives back the flowers and the persistent street vendor finally gives up.

How to visit a museum

I had an epiphany while visiting the Borghese galleries. The evolution of my museum-going strategies
The first time I visited the Louvre, I walked, tried to understand statues just by looking, failed, and got bored of seeing so many statues in 1 hour.    
Later I discovered the power of audiotours- especially Rick Steves- for giving context to artwork.
Cardinal Borghese, whose collection was expanded upon and turned into a museum.

At the Borghese, I discovered the magic of sitting down, and sketching the artwork. It forces me to sit down, and relax, and allows me to appreciate the work put into every chisel/brush stroke. Besides, even I can get RickSteves-fatigue sometimes.

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