Tuesday, October 16, 2012

No Time for Confession Today

It was time for some quick change action.

After only two hotels over the course of nearly two weeks, we were now doing two hotels in two days. Checking into the Hotel Tokyo, the lively little man checking us in took note of my name, repeating it not once but twice.

When I nodded yes, he came around from behind the desk to shake my hand warmly. When he went on to look at my passport, he took note of my birthday.

"You are Gemini!" he exclaimed and I nodded again. :"Very nice! Many liberties! Yes, Gemini! I am Gemini, too." Seems I'd made a fan without doing anything more than showing up with my passport.

After depositing our belongings in the room, we headed out for an afternoon exploring Rome.

Lunch was the first order of the day, breakfast having been nothing but clementines. Ristorante Strega beckoned with an empty patio at the end of a street next to the imposing Department of the Interior.

The meal was simple - a salad of tuna, tomato and onion followed by a very thin-crusted pizza of speck, Mozzarella and smoked Mozzarella accompanied by Coke in bottles. As we ate, we watched the shadow of a cat prancing  and arching above us on the canopy draped over the patio while some nearby bambinos giggled at its antics.

Feeling much better now, we departed to conquer Rome. Given its size, the lack of preparation (we hadn't expected a whole day here) and our late start, I let a street poster do the choosing for us.

"Vermeer," was notable because the greatest Dutch painter of the 17th century is not represented in any Italian collection. Turns out he hadn't been the subject of a show here before, either. I'm sure they think why look northward when you've got so many of your own artists on which to focus?

So that put us in a long line to buy tickets, no doubt behind many more Italians than tourists. The show was stellar, with never and rarely seen works by the master as well as 50 paintings by his Dutch contemporaries.

Some I knew - Metsu, de Hooch, ter Borch- and many I didn't but now do - Vosmaer, de Witte, van der Poel. Many of the early townscapes dealt with the explosion of 1654, where apparently a storehouse of gunpowder went off, killing many and drastically altering the landscape around the area, all documented in light-filled scenes.

The show was easily one of the most beautifully hung I've ever seen. Towering panels painted shades of blue, green and purple stood side by side with one painting per panel and Vermeer's paintings always on purple.

The show's signature image, "Girl with a Red Hat," I knew well since it's in the collection of the National Gallery of Art in Washington.

But "Young Woman Seated at a Virginal" is part of a private collection, so that's one I might never have seen if not in Rome today. "Lute Player" of a dressed-up young woman waiting for a man who will play the viola de gamba with her (an instrument I know only because of the UR performance I saw here) is an exquisite study in light and shadow.

His earliest work shown was "Saint Praxedis," a biblical work so unlike his later household scenes, but a clear harbinger of the talent that was to come. "The Girl with the Wineglass" was such a household scene, albeit one where seduction was unfolding before the viewer as a man fawns over a beautiful woman who is smiling at us in between sips of wine.

It seems to make the point that it is good to be fawned over. I wouldn't argue with that.

By the time we finished seeing it all, we were eager to get some walking in and headed back to the ancient quarter and the largest Catholic church in Rome, no small distinction in a city with at least two dozen Roman Catholic churches.

Built in the fifth century in the Roman style, I thought Santa Maria Maggiore's best side was the approach on the Piazza dell'Esquilio, with wide steps approaching the apse side from the street. Inside, we were amazed to find services going on in a small chapel on the left of the main altar even as visitors milled about, some even snapping pictures as the congregants sang hymns.

Walking around the massive ancient interior, we admired mosaics, a triumphal arch and a coffered ceiling that must have inspired awe from the first moment a mere human saw something so grand. Confessionals indicated which languages were spoken in each.

Leaving the church, we began heading back for our final meal in the eternal city. There was no point in even trying to cram in anything else today.

Clearly Rome is worthy of a trip all by itself. Someday.

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