slow clap

in photographs of me
in the canals
my face eating the sunlight
I smile
because
it’s amazing
in my memory
and even now that
winter is heavy
upon us
I somehow forget
wanting to push
my fellow tourists
into the green
and simply get on with
taking comfort
from once, years ago now
once being so far out
of reach
and no longer
thinking of jackets
thick socks
or desperately
hot showers,
just the slow clap
of feet on dry stone.

venice

Friday, 30th September, Florence

We slept late because of the Conrad trial, which shows the defense as bumbling and pointless, and the doctor as grossly negligent. The Accademia was not too far from the Duomo and once we gained entry, we moved into a hall of paintings and on to a nearby stairway which eventually led to a wide hall – around which stood David (almost with no warning.)

He was lit effectively, standing twelve feet on a podium that was already about five feet tall, and gazing off to the distance, way over our heads and seeming a little bothered by the attention? The marble sculpture was just a triumph of detail – veins, muscle, smooth, smooth skin, powerful, all that suspended grace standing with a mix of casualness and pride.

It was probably the best piece of art we saw in Italy – repeating the word ‘masterpiece’ here doesn’t seem like much, but looking up at David, he strikes you that way. We circled the statue, noting wear on his toes, the piece of cloth and the counterweight tree-branch at his leg, ultimately hesitant to leave.

From the Amalfi Cathedral

View from the steps of the Amalfi Cathedral. A casual holiday maker should be visible in the hotel window.

 

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After tea one night in the main square (the restaurant isn’t visible in this photo, but imagine it off to the left if you like) I realised we didn’t have a table number and I had to explain the order in very poor Italian, but it went well enough. I think I also managed to compliment the chef, I had a calzone that was pretty damn amazing. Of course, when you’re on a holiday food is more of an event, so you’re expecting good things anyway, but even with that in mind, it was a very, very good meal.

Since then I’ve been craving another good calzone, but we’ve yet to attempt to make one in this household. Below is a link to a recipe from Jamie Oliver that looks good, on the off chance that anyone hasn’t seen a calzone before there it is:

Calzone (Vegetarian)

(I had salami and mushroom with ricotta in Amalfi from memory, great thing about the calzone is that it works with a range of pizza toppings)

Probably one of the best meals I had in Italy, so how about you? What was your best meal while on holiday?

All time or recent.

Thursday 22nd September, Rome

The Colosseum has steep steps (the downward slope once used to rush people out) and our guide moves a little fast for pictures or close examination, though we see a lot and our guide is knowledgeable. The brickwork is impressive too, the arches, thin bricks, mortar etc, it’s like a skeleton revealed after the centuries of looters were done and gone. Getting in with a tour had meant we skipped the lines, which were considerable indeed, and we walked through corridors that were under restoration with scaffolding that looked not unlike clumsy, blocky spider webs, all unfinished themselves. Our guide mentioned that around half a dozen arches took about 4 years (I think) to clean of smog and exhaust fumes.

shuffling over old stone
the echo
of tour guides

Cappella Sistina

It’s sometimes reported that Michelangelo resented the four years he spent painting the 1000+ metres of the Sistine Chapel’s roof, sneaking away to work on other consignments while Pope Julius II stepped out to fight the French. But for any visitor, it was clearly a worthwhile endeavor. Trying to do it justice with words is too hard. Perhaps it’s enough to say that when I looked up I felt awed. Not just by the work itself, but by his dedication and vision.

I’m probably better off talking about what it feels like to be a tourist in there and mention a couple of things we saw. The link in the text above is good for giving a view of some of the things that are tough to see from the floor of the chapel, along with history behind its construction.

From the Gallery of Maps

We went to the Vatican City on the day before we were due to leave Rome, which was a weekday in autumn and so it wasn’t too busy – comparatively speaking. Four million people are said to visit the museums per year and weekends are busy indeed. (From a conservation standpoint, this must be tough to deal with.) My wife and I started in the museums above, very, very slowly burrowing our way down to the Sistine Chapel, ‘very slowly’ due to the press of bodies rather than the distance we travelled.

The actual Chapel lies beyond many halls and below several floors of the museum, or so it seemed. After the twentieth room/passage/alcove/set of stairs it was hard to tell. We walked through gallery spaces where we saw a Matisse and a couple of Dalis – which was a nice contrast with some of the more gruesome religious art, of slayings and decapitations (as was in vogue at the time.) At each bottle-necked corridor it was one step forward, two steps back, with tour groups moving through like a mass of wandering ghosts, linked by their brightly coloured transistors and a knack for bumping into you. The crowd was like a train of cattle in many ways, it also moved without grace, rigid and processional without the same sense of purpose. Occasionally an arm would steal above the din and at its top, like a star on a Christmas tree, was the unblinking eye of a camera. Then it would retract, almost with shame.

Also from the Gallery of Maps

Not by design, but due to the direction of the arrows leading toward the Cappella Sistina, we came to the Gallery of Maps, which I loved. Wall-sized frescoes showed the regions of Italy during the 1580s in some detail, they were actually one of my favourite parts of the museums. Many sculptures, paintings and tapestries lined the corridors, but some of my favourite pieces were much more modern: like the occasional fan, used to cool things down. These were a sweet gesture but did little in the end – because the mass of bodies that nearly constantly surrounded you were too good at producing sweat and heat. An open window here and there was like an oasis, and quickly occupied.

There were dozens of guards, often hidden from sight, though possessed of great vantage points. Their uniforms were smart and they had the impassive faces that came from being given years worth of reasons not to smile – tourists and their sticky fingers. No matter how many velvet ropes or signs that requested folks ‘not to touch’, the allure of marble and other surfaces proved too strong for many of the visitors.

Finally we came to the Sistine Chapel after nearly an hour of shuffling, and we had to pause on the landing. It was spectacular. No doubt. But by the end of the maze, we found ourselves a little burned out. We’d seen a lot. At the same time, the crowd denied you the time to examine anything at leisure. We had to force ourselves to stay in the packed Chapel longer, but in the end, we were glad to get out and get some air.

Yep, this is from the Gallery of Maps too

What would be best, if you could pick a time when it wasn’t crowded (some folks recommend early morning, we should have researched but added the Vatican City to our list of sights on a whim the night before.) The Chapel deserves to be seen in relative peace, and in a big hit, all at once, with little prelude. Especially not an hour-long crawl through the corridors. That way you can better appreciate the rich, detailed, and perhaps surprisingly colourful work done by Michelangelo. As to how colourful he intended is hotly contended of course.

One more thing, because the Chapel is a functioning one, it remains a holy place and so the guards periodically let out a mighty ‘Shhhhhh’ in unison. It would resonate and was quite powerful. Though it worked for a time, it was like putting a lid on a boiling pot. The pressure would eventually build and the lid/talking would eventually rise again. But I loved that they did not give up.

Better or worse?

Gelati

A small selection of gelati in Rome, near the Trevi Fountain

A whole post on ice cream? Yep.

You cannot travel to Italy and not sample – extensively – the gelati. We probably tried around twenty flavours in three weeks and now that it’s so long ago I can’t recall them all, but I do remember a few. Vividly. The ‘panna cotta’ for instance, was earth-shakingly good, while classic flavours like fragola (strawberry) and cioccolato were also fantastic. Probably the hardest thing was knowing when to stop actually. All worth it though.

The sign below we found in the middle of Amalfi, up beyond the Piazza Duomo and had to find a new SD card in order to photograph it, as by then (our second city into the trip) we’d already gone through a few gig.