S.P.Q.R. Study I: The Linear Sequence of Events

In flight right now between Rome and Cairo. Time bunched up on itself and I wasn't able to keep up with my prior travelogue. Not that we even had internet access after leaving Turin, and even if we did, we had better things to do. That's the problem with blogging. The more you have to say, the less time you have to say it. If you blog a lot, you usually have nothing to blog about except blogging itself. I surfaced for air in Rome occasionally to jot down notes (by hand, gasp) from which this is being written after the fact. I imagine though, there will be further extrapolations, departures from this. Consider this posting to be the sequence of events, the linear travelogue. The harbored reflections on what was born from the trip, from these places, and the photos and videos, will come in further postings. Suffice to say, Rome inspires a lot in me.

The Glorious Din of Starlngs. 28.10.08

After traveling from Turin and Cinque Terre, we arrived in Rome on the evening of the 28th, checked into our hotel in Trastevere (Antico Borgo). It's been 8 some years since we've been to Rome (travelogue from our last trip). Last time we were here was right after 9/11 and the vibe was weird—it was the main point of conversation and the general impression, rightfully so, was that "we had it coming." Now Obama is on Italy and most of the world's minds. The general feeling I have, brushing off on me, is of hope. I say this a day before knowing the outcome of the election (though by the time I post this we might know the outcome). I can't fathom the disappointment if Obama doesn't win. I will never return to America if he doesn't. I am still recovering from the disappointment of the last election, my disappointment with America, the realization that it is not a place I feel a connection with. A place I am ashamed to be a part of. I hope this disappointment is reversed and that America will once more be a place that I'm proud to say I'm from.

Anyway. Back to Rome. The first thing that struck me were the birds. The massive numbers of starlings in the sky when Jess opened the window of our hotel in Trastevere. The glorious din of the birds in the trees gathering as dusk fell. Though the unfortunate souls that parked under these trees probably did not think it so glorious...

sparrow shit

We wandered around Trastevere, stepping out of the rain for drinks, and eventually finding our way to a restaurant ("Augusto," I think) just before the rain really let loose, a sack of water bursting. We're talking torrential with thunder and lightning that even Romans were saying doesn't happen often like this. We took shelter in sausage and lentils, and pasta with cheese and pepper, then braved the rain back to our hotel, soaked regardless of whether we tried to avoid it.


Flâneuring the Ruin and Student Unrestlessness 29.10.08

If there's any word that summarizes what it is that Jess and I like to do it's flâneur (something I will likely expand on in photos in a subsequent post... ). Something that we don't get to do a lot in Nairobi. Nairobi sucks as a walking city. We flâneured our way through Trastevere, across the mighty Tiber river (another thing worthy of it's own post). Everywhere you look is ruin. Not ruin in a negative sense, but an arrested state of ruin, a ruin made ever more beautiful with time. I won't bother to mention all the touristy shit. I probably did last time, and there's probably plenty of Rome travelogues that do. We flâneured through the Jewish ghetto and then Campo de Fiori. We stumbled across the same hotel we stayed at last time we were here and inquired if they had rooms. They did. They had a great room overlooking Campo de Fiori, twice as big as our place in Trastevere, for less. So if you're reading this for hotel recommendations in Rome, look no further than Hotel Primavera. It's not really a hotel, but a sort of mom and pop place (spanning a few generations, so more like grandma and grandpop). It's not so much a hotel as a conglomerate of nearby apartments they have. The one we got this time was across the street. We ran back to the Hotel Antico Borgo in Trastevere and checked out. If Antico Borgo is any indication of what you get in Trastevere, you get very little bang for your buck. Reminds me of the Village in NYC where people pay top price to live like rats, all to be hip, in "the place to be." Oh, and while I am giving travel advice, the Lonely Planet book on Italy is complete crap. Useless.

Now that our hotel situation was straightened out, we flâneured to Piazza Navonna. I mentioned the student unrest before, that we saw in Milan and Turin—they were pissed here too and we're not gonna take it. Everyone we asked about the protests said, "it's complex," but from what we could gather, the Italian government was making substantial budget and curriculum cuts affecting grade school all the way through university students. Whereas before they had 2-3 teachers per class, they were cutting this back to one teacher per class (hello, like the rest of the world?!). Some people said the students were protesting because they just didn't want to study. Whatever the reason, or whether it was justified, it was good to see students protesting, especially with regards to their education. It reminded me of how students were in America up through the 80s. Maybe American kids protest now, I don't know, but for the most part American students seem too complacent, except when it boils over into school shootings or something. Anyhow, what started as a casual and peaceful gathering quickly spiraled into chaos and violence. Kids were running every which way. Some of the students were fighting each other, and then the riot police got involved. It was hard to tell what was going on amidst the smoke and flying chairs and students thrashing each other with sticks. We had just sat down at a cafe when all hell broke loose. The students trashed the cafe across the way from us, which sucks for the cafe owners. Here's the footage I got...



riot cop

After that excitement, we flâneured towards the coliseum. We met Leonardo, the translator of Miranda's book, and all around awesome guy. He runs these publishing workshops and asked me to give a presentation to his students. He invited some of the general public as well, ended up being some 30+ people there. There's a huge interest in publishing in Rome and everyone knew all about me and were very eager to learn about the press. I wasn't very well prepared though, and my public speaking skills suck. And the language barrier doesn't help. Since I formulated my presentation while I was at Terra Madre, Slow Food was on my mind and I ended up talking about the application of Slow Food principles to publishing and probably didn't do a very good job of it. I probably should have just shown my artwork and talked more about design as that's what they really seemed interested in. Anyway, I'll elaborate more on this in a future posting as I am very excited about the work that Leonardo is doing. After my talk, this book designer Ricardo Falcinelli gave a talk on book design, though he spoke very fast in Italian. In any event, it is evident that this group is very serious about books for the sake of books.

Afterwards, we got caught in the rain again. Ducked into some place on Campo de Fiori. I was helping the waiters batten down the hatches, it seriously felt like being in a hurricane or something. But all in good fun, it was hysterical.

I'm Flâneuring in the Rain. 30.10.08

Jess had meetings at FAO so I walked her over there, in the rain of course. You just had to give up caring. We were perpetually wet. Maybe we brought this rain with us from Nairobi, where we are missing the raining season. Jess had meetings all day, at FAO, Bioversity, The Global Seed Bank, etc. so I flâneured by myself. I purposely tried to get myself lost. Up on some hill overlooking the river and Trastevere, through parks and churches, some revisitations, vaguely familiar. The Basilica di San Sabina is one of my favorites, great textual inscriptions and tilework. I had the place completely to myself.

Flâneured down along the muddy Tiber. All through Trastevere. Grabbed a slice of foccacia. Took pictures until I completely maxed out the memory of my shitty camera and used up my batteries. I'll post them later. After Jess got back from her long day of meetings, we ate at La Carbonara in Campo de Fiori. It rained more, but not as torrential.

Graveyard Cats Revisited. 31.10.08

Walked with Jess to FAO again, past the Boca de Veritas.

boca de veritas

Then I hopped the subway to the pyramid and went to the non-catholic cemetery which is another place I have fond memories of. Visited the cats and Keats and Shelley's graves. Had the whole place to myself again. Took the subway to the main Termini. The subways are decked in graffiti, like NYC back in the day. Saw all the touristic sites... Piazza della Repubblica and Santa Maria degli Angeli, Teatro dell' Opera, Santa Maria Maggiore, San Carolo Quattro Fontane, Fontana del Tritone, Piazza Colonna with the intricate column, Piazza de Montecitorio, Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, Piazza Navona (without rioting students), etc. Then I went for a run along Tiber. Not sure how far I ran, but I passed under twelve bridges and ran until there was no longer stone walls but just regular bushy banks on the outskirts of the city. I also popped out to run around St Peter's square and the Vatican. I saw a beaver sitting on a rock in the river. I'm not sure beavers exist in Rome, but I swear it's what I saw. I decided that Jess was a beaver not a cub and my new nickname for her is Rocky (even though technically, Rocky was a flying squirrel, as a kid I always thought Rocky was a beaver). And I'm Bullwinkle, because I'm gangly and goofy, even though I feel like I gained 5 kilos being here.

The rain remained with us. It was quite the phenomena. It felt like that city in the movie Seven, where it's perpetually raining. After Jess got back from her meetings, we went back out and got a drink and appetizer (seafood salad) in the neighborhood near the Coliseum, near Leonardo's studio. Then met Leonardo and some of his students (Francesco Verso and other guy from Sicily) outside of his studio. Leonardo took us to La Carbonara. No relation to the one in Campo de Fiori, this one was off via Serpenti. And it rocked. One of the oldest places in the city. I started with some Buffalo Mozz that was unbelievable, the best mozzarella I've ever had. Then I had some small tube pastas (macchericini??) with artichokes, bacon (not the best translation) and shaved peccorino. It was unbelievable. Washed it all down with a chianti classico and had three types of desserts and limoncello. And it was great to be in Leonardo's company. We learned a lot more about the ins and outs of Rome. In retrospect it was halloween, but you never would've known except for the decorations in the occassional Irish pub.

Ara Pacis and Bruno Munari Sleep with the Fishes. 01.11.08

Had coffee in Campo de Fiori with a colleague of Jess that then took us to the Ara Pacis, though we didn't get very far in her car because there was a marathon going through the city. Ara Pacis is this monument that is controversial because of the enclosure that was built to house the original. I didn't think it was a big deal—you couldn't possibly build a less distracting building to house it—but I think the fact that it was an American architect, Richard Meier, that built it, makes it controversial. Kind of like the Japanese architect that built that weird pyramid thing outside the Louvre.

Ara Pacis

More importantly though, is that the Ara Pacis museum had an exhibit on Bruno Munari. I'll have a lot more to say about him later, as the guy is a genius. Afterwards we crossed the river and went to St. Peters. We didn't brave the line to go in, we've seen all that before, and the vatican museum. It's really not something you'd want to endure more than once in your life, but something everyone should see once. Had lunch of calamari and lasagna then went to Piazza del Popolo and up into Villa Borghese and down the Spanish Steps. All the typical tourist shit, though we avoided Trevi fountain. Flâneured around the antique district then had pesto vongole gnocchi at Restaurant del Gallo.

More Ruin and Antipasto. 02.11.08

More flâneuring, past circo maximo, coliseum and the forum. The coliseum was an absolute madhouse so we didn't go in and didn't go in the forum either. Again, been there done that, and it's just as enjoyable to see both from the outside. Everywhere you went there were Peruvian pan pipers playing Last of the Mohicans. It was quite funny but sad at the same time. What Peruvians playing Last of the Mohicans has to do with ancient Rome is beyond me. All the Indian dudes selling noise-makers and bubble-blowers and other stupid shit was pretty annoying as well, and the morons that would actually buy that stuff even more annoying. Flâneured up past S. Gregorio Magno and Santi Giovanni e Paolo and the Villa Cellimontana and Arco di Dolabella, blah, blah. Everywhere you turn ancient ruins and basilicas. Ended up at San Giovanni Laterano, which was pretty massive and impressive. Had lunch at some place called Merulana. The food is really what it's all about.

anti pasti

Flâneured more, saw most everything, and revisited again. Saw the Michelangelo statue of Moses in the S. Pietro in Vincoli, as well as St. Peters shackles. Even went to Trevi fountain where Jess threw a flattened 1 euro coin (that I had put on the tracks in Vernazza) into the fountain (to plant the seeds for our return).

S.P.Q.R. Extrapolation II: The Baptismal Font, Graffiti and Street Memes of Rome


S.P.Q.R. Study III: Feral River Brothers and Starlings in the Mud-Orange City



(c) 2008 Derek White