21 December 2000 – Rome
Tumbled out of the train station in a daze, only to find myself in the Piazza di Spagna, surrounded by people, tourists and Romans, worse than any cliché; and such noise and such bustle. The Spanish Steps and Keats’s house caught at a cross-glimpse. By sheer good fortune I managed to find my hotel within fifteen minutes.
22 December 2000 – Rome
Spent the best part of the day sitting in and ambling through the Pantheon; one wonders what it must have been like before the later Romans came with their god and their saints, tearing out the older deities and the bronze rosettes for the baldacchino at St. Peter’s.
The Pantheon is on such a scale, one can imagine it the product of some heroic age. Yet even so, it is not monstrous; is does not, cannot, make one feel small. People wander through, heads thrown back, staring open-mouthed at the immense ceiling…
It is strange to think of an ancient temple as a modern church – the faiths are so different, not in magnitude, but in kind.
23 December 2000 – Rome
To the Musei Vaticani in the morning; the streets were deserted and trees cast pale shadows onto the Tiber. Having not the faintest clue of a suitable direction, I wandered vaguely Vaticanwards and found I needn’t have worried: one can’t miss it. Waited in a rather long line for admission, then darted away to see marbles and vases. Oh, yes, and the Sistine chapel, too. Saw Pericles & Periander in a corridor. Never before have I been so happy to see a pair of tyrants. As the musem closed, tottered over to St. Peter’s, and was hustled in with everyone else. Too large. Too gray. Too much gold. Too many squalling children. The light pressing through the windows seemed more solid than the marble.
24 December 2000 – Rome
At the Protestant Cemetery, in the company of numerous over-attentive cats. I cannot help but feel, porter aside, that the cats are the guardians of the place, keeping the pigeons away, trotting amicably among the tombs. It is a strange place, calm, yet with a curious access to something else. There is the flutter of so many former personalities, bright strawberries grow around the neglected graves, and with the many-colored cats it seems quite merry.
26 December 2000 – Rome
Wandered to the Villa Borghese, a rather large park containing such interesting things as the British School at Rome and the Galleria Nazionale d’ Arte Moderna. It being a sunny day, I didn’t much mind getting lost, and wandered past and around the Temple of Faustina with much amusement before finding the Viale delle Belle Arti, which leads – to a tourist’s eyes – to the Villa Giulia, home of the Museo Nazionale Etrusco, which – to extend the sentence further – was even open. I was a good child and saw the much-touted Chigi vase, with its early representation of hoplite armor. It was much smaller than I expected.
27 December 2000 – Rome
Saw a double herm of Epicurus and Diogenes the Cynic at the Museo Capitolino, which pleased me much in my soul.
At the Palazzo dei Conservatori, saw a herm of Alcibiades, which I thought particularly appropriate and a Roman statue of a toga’d man holding a scroll, whose expression was wonderful, though ineffable.
Later — Looking out over the city, a faint bluster in the air. The ruins, though sunlit, had a bleak familiarity. Curious to think of the personalities – Octavian, Domitian, et al. – who once crowded this now-barren spot. Flowers creep amongst the marble as children pry at bricks and mortar, searching for a souvenir.
Atop the Palatine, in the Farnese Gardens, oranges still clung to the trees and fountains bubbled in the winter light.