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Wed. 5 October

The room is very warm, and the airconditioner while it spits out its little stream of cool air in fact heats the room up much more from unvented heat of the electric motor; so we slept as I had the night before with the window open.

When I woke up around 7 the window was closed; in fact the heat was I believe why I woke up. Got up to go to the bathroom and find the floor in 8‑9 mm of water — Here is what happened (I slept thruout and James as usual had everything happen to him):

When the window is closed, the room is very hot. The airconditioner generates heat. The fan overhead seems to be impossible to turn on (we've tried everything). So we opened the windows. Somewhere in the middle of the night, a truck came to pick up the garbage from the apple- or hospital-green dumpster under the window. It stayed a while, putting out fumes, apparently making it rather hard to breathe. The fire alarm and bright emergency light came on. After trying various things, James woken up by all this (noise, too) finally turned off the general on/off switch for the entire room — which didn't turn off the light, but somehow in the meanwhile he fell asleep. Well, apparently when you do that the toilet grinder (there's one in this room like in the little inside room I first had) then proceeds to flood the bathroom floor, q.e.d.

Downstairs, the somewhat peevish wavy-haired blonde, in almost always salmon or red dresses, was even more peevish than usual; she said no we should never turn off the toilet grinder, rather we should call the desk. . . .

The only useful thing achieved was that we comfortably escaped having breakfast at the hotel; we went instead to the Esquiline Square behind S. Mary Major and had an assortment of rolls, a coupla coffees and orange juice, canned, from concentrate; in sum, what we would have had at the hotel except less — but under the plane trees by pleasant weather.

Breakfast disposed of, we went around to the front of, then into, Mary Major; I was disappointed, it didn't match my memories of 1966: other than a with difficulty visible because too far and high and obstructed by a baldacchino proscenium of it is true beauti­ful Byzantine mosaics, and other than the clear descendence of the basilican plan from say the Basilica Iulia we'd been in in the Forum, basically it's a large cavernous dark hole full of overdecorated and at the same time rather funereal columns —

S. Prassede nearby is another matter, a lovely small church with glorious 11th‑century mosaics in the apse and a little side chapel with a Christ on the ceiling held up by four angels with a definite flavor of antiquity; also a little niche where the base of a column of a wildly flaring shape of some mottled greenish-black and white stone is kept as being the pillar of Our Lord's flagellation —

[image ALT: A rectangular vault clothed in a mosaic that depicts a bust of Christ in a roundel supported by four standing angels, one at each corner like squinches. It is the Late Antique mosaic ceiling of the Chapel of St. Zeno in the church of S. Prassede in Rome.]

Basilica of S. Prassede, Rome:
the ceiling of the Cappella S. Zenone.

We then walked down the v. Cavour to the Markets of Trajan, or at least that's what happened: we spent well over an hour poking around every nook and cranny of this huge artificial hill [. . .] — The via Biberatica is rather impressive; other than in Pompeii I can't remember any other remaining street of multistory buildings from Roman times. Amusingly enough, the best view of the Biberatica, and the one in all the books, is taken from the sidewalk up above it outside the paid-entrance area.

As we exited the Mercati Traiani, we met first with one small then with one much larger contingent of noisy socialists carrying banners — I didn't notice a single woman among them — heading to the pal. Chigi to demonstrate against the government's having cut jobs. Peculiar that socialists and communists don't realize that governments that overspend put the State under the control of rich bankers! Anyhow James hates noise and feared getting mixed up in this (as it turns out, 8 people were hurt in a mêlée later, according to the papers) so we got off the Corso and went looking for the Pantheon — which we found after a rather long pit stop at S. Maria sopra Minerva which, precisely because it's always billed as the only gothic church in Rome, I'd always assumed was uninteresting. It isn't at all, although as gothic goes it misses the boat: but there's a marvelous chapel by Lippi and there's the tomb of Fra Angelico between the choir and a chapel where there's a Mother and Child of his.

Before looking at the Pantheon, lunch: they closed S. Maria on us so it felt like the thing to do. We had a good lunch, one of the better meals I've had in Italy, at Fortunato on the v. del Pantheon: James had speck affumicato, gnocchi alla Gorgonzola, trippa alla Romana; I had ham & melon, gnocchi al pomodoro,º cotoletta alla Gorgonzola. The speck was spelled "speak" on the menu, an interesting hypercorrection; the two Gorgonzola dishes were not the same sauce, the gnocchi being a bechamel-based sauce and wonder­ful, my cutlet being undiluted Gorgonzola with a bit of ham on it and a bit salty but quite good. Chianti classico Castello di Uzzano 1991 — no dessert — good meal if rather deliberate service. Pleasant sunny day about 70°; we ate in the street in a little fenced off portion adjacent to the indoors of the restaurant: a busy street with clothing and china shops and lots of people going back and forth on it, occasionally but not very often a group of foreign tourists. Wonder­ful beagle in a clothing store across the street; when his owner, the shopkeeper an elegant man of 38 or so with wavy hair, went off closing up the glass door, the dog lay down in it with his paws up against the cool glass and his nose down on the ground looking resigned although once he became alert and interested as a woman walked by with a small dog in her arms. Behind James in the restaurant with us a table of 3 Italians one of whom facing me looked so much like Danny Kaye that I kept on expecting him to put his soup spoon in his hair or do something zany, but he didn't, I was quite disappointed.

Speaking of which the Pantheon — very crowded, like a department store (two American women tourists had to be stopped by a sacristan from coming in chomping on ice cream cones) — disappointing except for the hole in the dome which has a strong tendency to lift the eyes upwards and play with the mind and the body, even changing the sense of proportion of the building. A nice Annunciation, nothing else of any real interest.​a

[image ALT: A two-arched stone bridge over a small river, seen thru branches of oak trees. It is the Ponte Fabrizio (Pons Fabricius) in Rome.]

We then went to see the Pons Fabricius, going along the Tiber, where suddenly the city felt like Paris — a combination of wide boulevards with lots of traffic, the river, and plane trees. Despite me wanting it to be interesting and even if it was pleasant to look at, the Pons Fabricius is not really very interesting; on the other hand, the desire to cross it proved irresistible so we did onto the island, where a little church, hideous on the outside, was inside rather interesting: the church of S. Bartolomeo,º where there was a medieval puteus on the steps up to the altar where the inscription, as far as I could make it out, suggested walking around the "Puteus Sancti" so I finally dropped a coin down it and it went clink a measurable time later and confirmed it was a well —

Walk back to the hotel as twilight was gathering via the Theater of Marcellus and the Capitol: the Piazza seemed very peculiar without Marcus Aurelius on his horse in it — a building on the south side of the Piazza was partly devoted to a Civil Registry Office for marriages, so there is a constant flux of formally clad couples, bridesmaids, photographers and guests. Little chat with a Roman cop who thought my Italian was just peachy.

Got back to the hotel around 7 and James fell asleep immediately. I read my Agatha Christie, raided the hotel fridge for peanuts and pear juice, and slept.

Later Note:

a Gosh, how people change in a few years! I'm glad to say that this foolish 1994 opinion is not mine any more. It had already started to change by the time of my next visit, in 1997.

My pages on the Pantheon are here.

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Page updated: 7 Dec 20