Sunday, January 31, 2010

From the Vaults

I was reading through my old blog and found this one. It really captures my enthusiasm for being in Rome, when I first got the job as a guide. Such a different time...

Yes, folks, today is the birthday of Augustus Caesar, full name: Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus. Gaius Octavius Thurinus, if we're referring to him before the year 27BC. If he were still alive, he'd be 2,070 years old. During his reign Jesus Christ was born. Among his descendents were Nero, Caligula, Tiberius, and Claudius. Basically a bunch of lunatics (excepting Claudius). But he was a pretty good guy. As far as emperors go. He was also the first emperor. Let's all pour a little out for our dead homey. I mean, this is the man who virtually invented the calendar we use today, and I mean, not many people have an entire month named after them (I can only think of one other, being July, after Julius Caesar). What a guy. Maybe one day they'll change the name of the month of February to Justinuary. One can only dream, right? Did you know that the months September through December were originally the 7th through the 10 months, hence the roots septem-, octo-, nove-, dece-, which are, respectively seven, eight, nine, and ten in Latin. Augustus changed the calendar from an unreliable Lunar one to a Solar one. I believe he also started the world's first fire department, but don't quote me on that.

I am currently listening to Dave Brubeck. Time Out. And today is Sunday. My roommates are gone to some distant place, and I am alone.

Tomorrow I have an 8 hour tour of Rome, starting at the Vatican, then to the Colosseum and Forum, and finally through all of the piazzas and fountains. My friend told me Joanna Newsome is playing tonight in Rome, and I'm hoping that maybe this private tour is with her, just so I can rub it in the face of everyone I know. Another of my fellow "Cultural Historians" (our preferred nomenclature) got to give a tour to Chelsea Clinton. Being British and none too knowledgeable about the finer details of American politics, she made a joke about Bill Clinton (there is an ancient Roman statue in the Vatican that looks an awful lot like Slick Willy). Her boss was none too happy about that. I've yet to walk anyone through the Vatican, but the other two I've done, and I've become quite proficient with the Forum and Colosseum (if I do say so myself). Obviously this is a lot of information I have to keep in my head, so I've been busy studying up on it all. It's basically like delivering a 6 and a half hour lecture (since we travel a bit in the taxi and also stop for lunch). This is why I've been so lazy in terms of posting. For that, I apologize. My days and nights are spent trying to remember the differences between Baroque architecture and Renaissance; between Carlo Maderno, Domenica Fontana, Carlo Rainaldi, and Giacomo della Porta; between the Pamphilj popes, della Rovere popes, Farnese popes, and the Barberini popes; etc.

Since Jim has arrived, however, I've been much more active. Before I was staying at my house, with my nose in books or on the internet (I've filled an entire Moleskin with notes). He's probably the best person I could have here at the moment, since he enjoys walking around and finding new stuff just as much as I do; and since his background is in Art and Art History, he can tell me about the processes through which bronze doors are cast, or what materials artists used to glue gold leafing to the ceilings. Meanwhile I tell him about the history of the founding of the church, institution, or beliefs depicted in the art. Together we are building our knowledge and teaching each other how to read the art, something quite difficult for me, who's always seen a painting as a painting. Saints and Pagan gods are always depicted with some sort of prop to distinguish them from other Saints or Pagan gods (Hercules always has a lion's skin, St. Peter is always holding keys, St. Paul, a sword, St. Agnes is always with a lamb, Hera is often with a peacock, Venus an apple, etc.). I have now read the New Testament from cover to cover, and plan on starting the Old Testament soon (whenever I get a chance). We've also revived the process of "Church Hunting," which is like treasure hunting, only better. Knowing that Caravaggio's three masterpieces of the lives of St. Matthew are in San Luigi dei Francesi is a good start to the day. From there we walk around, going into church after church, looking for them. That particular example took two days for us to find (turns out it was right around the corner from the Pantheon).

At night we get a bottle of wine and sit in the piazzas, trying to talk to girls, with varying degrees of success. Both of us are trying to learn Italian. Since I've been here longer, I feel it would be embarrassing if he mastered it first. So far I speak it better than he does, but he understands it better than I do. Between us we can hold a decent conversation with someone. He has the advantage of being really good friends with several Italians, whereas I only have some acquaintances, most of whom want to practise their English with me. Regardless, his presence is going to motivate me to start really learning this language, if for no other reason than the shame I would feel if I didn't.

Now on to the Gallery of Candelabrae! I can't remember which pope set it up (I think it was Gregory XIII in 1575, but I can't say, "I think" on a tour... too improfessional). Wish me luck, everyone. I'll need it.

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