Perhaps my introduction to Italy was the same as most...ROME! And what an introduction it was.
This is one of the must see cities of the world. The great city of western civilization that carried on after the glory days of Athens, the see of the Caesars and the Roman Empire, and the seat of the world's largest Christian faith. It may be a bit "shopworn" these days...the glory that was the Roman Empire lies in ruins, but one could look at that as part of the charm of the City, one of the reasons one goes to Rome. But there are plenty of other reasons. It is home to much of the world's great art, a good portion of it housed in the Vatican museums. There are many other great museums, one of which is the Galleria Borghese where some works of my favorite sculpturer, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, are to be seen. Works of architecture abound at every turn, many great churches (besides Saint Peter's) which anywhere else would be considered world class, the Basilica of Santa Maria Major for example. Then there are the warm and animated Italian people, themselves worthy of observation and engagement.
Perhaps I was a bit intimidated at first, a foreign city I knew little about, a language I knew even less about, warnings of pick pockets, etc. None of that proved worthy of concern. It's just like visiting any American city; it takes some orientation. Our first lesson was the scaled down size of our hotel room and the hotel "lift". The latter wasn't big enough to fit us and our bags into it so we had to go up separately. We had to do a bit of maneuvering to get all into our room. But it eventually worked. Then at breakfast the next morning we met Gianni whose family owned the hotel. He greeted us wearing a black shirt and white tie (seriously) but in perfect English with a distinct Philly accent. Turned out he had just moved "home" from Philadelphia and missed his Phillies. When he learned that I too followed baseball each morning started with a "review" of the previous night's scores. The month was April, the season less than 30-days old, but the Phillies were struggling. Gianni was "dying" and one morning pronounced the season "over". Still he had enough left in him to recommend a favorite ristorante for that evening and told us to ask for "so and so" and tell him Gianni sent us, and we'd be in good hands. We did and we were.
We had an acquaintance in ROME who had grown up in Santa Cruz and gone to school with one of our sons. She had married an Italian man and subsequently moved to ROME where she was employed as an official tour guide at the Vatican. She had good command of the Italian language. She knew we were coming to ROME and offered to be our guide at the Vatican. We hired her which proved to be some of the best money spent in ROME. On our visit there we went right past a two to three block line waiting to buy tickets, straight into the museum. My wife was having difficulty with her leg so she procured a wheel chair so she could ride through the vast expanses that are the Vatican museums (yes, plural). That worked until we came to the Sistine Chapel where steps leading into it preclude the use of wheel chairs. By that time, however, the heavy "hoofing" is past. Once in one looks to the ceiling with awe at the sublime frescoes of Michelangelo. Alas, they are too detailed to begin to internalize it all. Photography is not allowed but I managed to "sneak" a few shots, one of which is included in the "Roma" portfolio. The tour ends at the Basilica of Saint Peter.
We've visited scores of great churches in our travels but this place stands alone in my mind as probably the greatest work of art in Christiandom. Everything in it is great art from the dome of Michelangelo, to the Baldachin pillars of Bernini, to the famed PIETA of Michelangelo (tucked away in a darkened corner and almost an after thought in the massive scope of the entirety), portraits by Raphael, and so on, and finally outside to Saint Peter's Square designed by (again) Bernini. Oh my,the head spins!
And so it went, one day after another of great sights and not so great sights. I am still saddened by seeing God's children begging at a church doors, but lifted by viewing a woman performing an act of kindness by giving a weary horse a few drops of water from her hand. If we can show pity for the horse certainly we can take pity on the beggars too? Alas this is a scene played out everywhere in this weary world.
I fear our time in ROME fled before I could appreciate what I was seeing, and had seen. It is a photographer's paradise and I used the opportunity. With what I now know I could do a better job, but the photos in this portfolio help me come to terms with the magnitude of the history and art that made Italy one of the great players of western civilization that continues to this day. These images are a treasured part of my portfolio.