Albert Camus on Travel

What gives value to travel is fear. It is the fact that, at a certain moment, when we are so far from our own country … we are seized by a vague fear, and an instinctive desire to go back to the protection of old habits … this is why we should not say that we travel for pleasure. There is no pleasure in traveling, and I look upon it more as an occasion for spiritual testing … Pleasure takes us away from ourselves in the same way as distraction, in Pascal’s use of the word, takes us away from God. Travel, which is like a greater and a graver science, brings us back to ourselves.

Albert Camus
Notebooks 1935-1951

Begging in Rome – Reposted at ‘Bucket List Publications’

Fantastic news, Lesley Carter has republished my ‘Begging in Rome’ post at her travel blog ‘Bucket List Publications‘ – very happy to announce it here, it was great to touch the post up again and to ‘revisit’ Italy, I’m reminded how lucky I was to visit.

Just watch out for my usual rambling style!

And be sure to have a look at the loads and loads of other great stories at her blog too.

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.

Consecration

Consecration by Pope Boniface IV (the name ‘Boniface’ meaning approximately ‘one who does good’) saved the Pantheon from the worst of the pillage and plunder in medieval times, “after the pagan filth was removed of course.

Easily one of the more spectacular and complete historical buildings in Rome, the Pantheon’s dome is a work of art in itself, being unreinforced as it is, and just so damn large. Up above, the oculus (with a diameter of around 8 metres) let the sky pour inside; and on a sunny day like the ones we had, would leave a scorch-mark of white on the walls.

Looking up 43 metres to the oculus

The crowds were quieter here and we were able to move around comfortably, for a while following a guy wearing a Witness Relocation Program shirt and his giant camera. The attendants were not wearing the frowns or glazed eyes of boredom or defeat that seem to come from putting up with tourists all day every day, they seemed in good cheer – which at times, seemed a little in short supply. No wonder, perhaps, with the recent austerity measures cutting pay for public sectors.

More taxes for everyone

The Pantheon Fountain stood outside, directly before its namesake, but as it was undergoing repairs, the music of water was absent. The ever-shifting crowds and horse-drawn carriages bypassed it, except when someone paused to drop a coin into a busker’s guitar case. While we chose a place to eat (and there were at least half a dozen places to eat in the piazza) I listened for a minute. He had a great voice, and possessed the showman’s earnestness of many buskers, but he really was doing a fantastic version of George Michael’s Careless Whisper. Stripped back as an acoustic ballad, it worked. Dropping the cheesy (if signature) sax helped too, it was one of the best covers I’ve heard and I found myself disappointed that he wasn’t there when we went back.

Looking out from inside the Pantheon

Looking to the Pantheon from the fountain

Begging in Rome

Obviously a 24 or so hour flight from Australia to Rome is going to be a bit of a haul. As a direct flight, there’s still a four hour stopover two thirds of the way there, which is a mixed blessing. Getting in to Dubai at 5am was nice to stretch the legs, but with four hours before the transfer, there wasn’t too much to do, unless you’re obsessed with duty free shopping.

When traveling big distances, you get good at waiting at least!

Once my wife and I actually got in to our hotel in Rome, instead of collapsing from fatigue as I thought we would, we found ourselves energised by the city. Calling Rome a ‘short’ city might not make sense, but in the historic city centre there are few buildings taller than 6 or so storeys (if I remember right) – compare that to Melbourne or other ‘young’ cities and you get the idea. And as every other building is architecturally inspiring, there’s a wonderful feeling of strolling down the cobblestones of a piece of living history. I know that’s a cliché, but it’s an old city and one that has resisted crass, neon facelifts for many years, and is all the more amazing for it.

Via Veneto

The first place we went looking for after consulting a simple map, was the Fontana Di Trevi. From Via Veneto it’s only about a ten-minute walk and so we charged down the streets, finding it easily enough, the steady flow of visitors helping out. Once we were close enough the rush of water sort of pulled us around a corner and into a narrow square lined with gelati shops and packed with visitors.

It’s hard to place it into words, but the 26 metre-tall fountain covers the lower portion of the Palazzo Poli and demands your attention where it rises out of the water, Tritons looking on with some sense of proprietorship. Even as we gaped round the corner, moved down and settled at its feet to watch people throw thousands of euros over their shoulders into the water, the fountain seemed to clear the square of voices. I could stare at it and hear nothing, see nothing of those around me (until someone bumps into me) and just let the sound of the water fill the air. Actually, it was hard to imagine it red – as is was for a time in 2007 – it’s so beautifully blue.

The obvious awe I felt looking at the fountain was marred by the obligatory hawkers (found in every major tourist attraction of course) with their tap-water roses, squelching, plastic-rubber-glue novelty items and pushy nature, one for which a stern face is only a partial rebuff. Sometimes a short, “grazie, no” does the trick as you walk by; other times just a shake of the head. Some would follow, walking along as best they could with the crowds, shoving a rose at you,  ‘a gift, a gift.’

Even though we’d expected them at the fountain, there were no beggars there, they were usually found elsewhere. Compared to the hawkers, they were hardly aggressive. They’d go for pity instead, sometimes with quite transparent efforts, lying on the cobblestones with a small child curled in arm beside a cup (often at churches), or by prostrating themselves half in the gutter/half in the street, hand outstretched with a face to the concrete. There they remained still and made no sound. Some had signs, some did not. One we saw had just fame written large. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I saw only a small amount of people donate, and though we did at times, you couldn’t help but wonder if a coin or two would make much difference.

church steps
lead to a beggar’s cup
sunburnt tourists

Italy 2011

So my wife and I have recently returned from 3 weeks in Italy and after the jet lag wears off I’d like to inflict my thoughts, ramblings, writing and a few photos upon you.   It may be that I can manage semi-regular posts on the trip too (we shall see how I go getting back into the new term) broken into the four places we spent our time, being Rome, Amalfi, Florence and Venice.

During the long climb to the cupola of the ‘Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore’ in Florence, which everyone simply called the Duomo.