When I last posted about our Rome trip, it was Sunday afternoon, after riposo, and we were on the Aventine Hill.
We walked down the Aventine towards Circus Maximus because Megan claimed she had never seen it. We had no definite plans — we eventually were going to end up at San Giovanni dei Fiorentini for 6pm Mass, but until then, we were free to do whatever the heck we wanted.
We wandered down into Circus Maximus to cross it and walk down Via San Gregorio.
You can see the ugly Vittorio Emanuele monument peeking back there, in the middle of the picture– so if you can picture it in your head, Megan and I will eventually be walking basically in that direction, just on the other side of that hill dotted with trees and ruins — the Palatine Hill, where the palace of the Roman emperors was (and where we get our word “palace”).
At the end of Via San Gregorio is something that might look familiar:
Only you don’t normally see this side — the lower side — because it’s not as photogenic as the other higher side, which has more marble intact. We were approaching the Colosseum from the Caelian Hill side. The Caelian Hill, one of the “seven hills” of Rome, is where the Romans kept the wild animals that were used in the games in the Colloseum. It’s said that you could hear the roars of the lions on the Caelian Hill at night.
The hill was also once home to the family of St. Gregory the Great, land which he donated to the Benedictines and where a Benedictine monastery still stands at his church San Gregorio Magno al Celio. (The Benedictines, if you remember your church history, led by St. Augustine, were sent to England by St. Gregory the Great to evangelize the Anglo-Saxons. Hence, St. Augustine of Canterbury.)
That’s the beautiful Arch of Constantine. I think we should start making magnificent architectural monuments like that again. I guess we have our monuments to the presidents in D.C., but this is different. Can you imagine if General Petraeus made himself a giant victory arch? Of course, back then, generals who won great victories tended to then take over and rule things. And become dictators. So never mind.
Megan had also never been to St. Frances of Rome’s church, or if she had, she had never seen St. Frances’ tomb. We had been praying a novena to St. Frances of Rome for our trip, so it was fitting to go and pray it together in front of her body.
I love St. Frances of Rome so much, and she had really come through for us on this trip. I loved staying at her house in Trastevere, too. She is a woman worthy of emulating, so it was fitting for the two of us to put ourselves under her patronage- for our pilgrimage, but also for our lives and vocations.
She achieved sanctity by living out her vocation — whether it was her time as wife and mother, or after the death of her husband, as a member of the religious order she founded. There’s a beautiful story of her answering the needs of her husband and children during her prayer — setting aside her prayer book each time they called her. When she would return to her prayers, she found herself reading the same sentence over and over again, as she continued to get interrupted. When she returned yet again, the sentence had turned to gold — a divine sign that she was doing the right thing in setting aside her prayers to fulfill the duties of her vocation.
If you visit her church, which is perched on a hill in the Roman Forum, you’ll want to walk into the sanctuary and down the stairs you’ll find there off to the side. Following a narrow hallway, you’ll come to her tomb, which is directly under the sanctuary. There she lies, a full skeleton, wrapped in gauze, with little shoes on her feet. In her hands, she clutches her prayerbook.
As we came out of the church, walking quickly past the drunk homeless man lying outside, we heard the strains of the Last of the Mohicans soundtrack. Not exactly what you’d expect while walking in the Roman Forum.
There was a street festival down Via Fori Imperali, the street that Mussolini created next to the Forum. While there were lots of people at the street festival, we soon realized that the festival consisted only of:
1. a street performer that looked like a statue
2. a “kids zone” that consisted of sticks (like Lincoln logs) lying on the cobblestoned ground
3. a woodcarver
4. three — yes, three– different groups of Native Americans, including one in full feathered headdress, playing synthesizers and various “authentic” instruments, like rain sticks.
They were spaced out along the road, so that as soon as one synthesizer/rain stick song died out, you approached another one. It was quite odd.
My brother and sister-in-law and I had seen a Native American street performer in Florence, and it was equally strange then.
Maybe we missed most of the festival attractions by the time we walked through.
We stopped to marvel at the Forum, although it appeared that something was on fire.
Megan and I commented how Rome burning generally doesn’t bode well for Christians. And while this was said in jest, it did spark some interesting thoughts and conversations. I don’t think I believe in portents, but I will say… that smoke is coming from the exact direction of the old Porta Capena. Which is where the Great Fire of of 64 started.
We stopped to get water from my favorite fountain, which is the pine cone fountain between Vittorio Emanuele and San Marco, at the end of the 916 bus line.
I made Megan pose for a picture.
The water out of that fountain is as cold as the water out of your refrigerator.
Then we stopped at the Gesu, where I should have used the ladies’ room. I’m not sure why I didn’t. But I did take a picture of one of my favorite paintings in Rome, which is above the main altar of the Gesu — the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple.
Then we took a bus to San Giovanni for the 6pm Mass with Father Thomas Williams. Have I mentioned how much I love and miss the 6pm Mass at San Giovanni? I even emailed Father Williams about a month before our trip to make sure he still said Mass in English on Sunday nights there. It used to be a more popular Mass for the English university students, but when I was studying there in 2008 it would often be just a handful of us. I lectored every other week or so, when my friend Joseph didn’t or when we didn’t have people like George Weigel visiting. : ) (We let him lector.) Mass would only last a half an hour or so, but he never rushed and he certainly never skimped on the homily. I would actually look forward to his homily each week, and they never, ever disappointed.
So even though we had already been to Mass that morning, Megan gladly humored me by going again. Elizabeth Lev, an incredible art historian in Rome, was there, like she usually was, and Father asked her daughter to read the first reading and Meg or I to read the second. So I got to relive a bit of 2008 by lectoring again in that big beautiful basilica. It was just so wonderful to be back. Father’s homily was wonderful — nothing earth-shattering, just simple, eloquent truth.
After Mass, I really had to use the ladies’ room. I should have gone in the Gesu, obviously. I should have asked the sacristan if there was one in San Giovanni somewhere, but I didn’t, so Megan and I headed into the darkness of the Roman night. I quickly got into a pretty bad mood, because I didn’t want to make a decision. I knew I needed to use the restroom, but we also needed to eat dinner, and I wasn’t ready to go all the way back home for the night. We didn’t have very many nights left, and I didn’t want to waste one just because I had been dumb.
(You see, public restrooms are hard to find in Rome.)
Looking back, it’s pretty embarrassing to admit that I was in a bad mood in Rome. When I type that we were tired or hungry or grouchy … it’s hard to believe we weren’t just basking in the Roman wonderfulness and frolicking down the cobblestones. What I would do right now to go back to that night, despite the discomfort or the weariness or the inconveniences of the city.
Dear, dear Megan. She found cranky me a bathroom. Granted, it was in a little cafe and I felt guilty sneaking in and using it and not buying anything. And it was horribly filthy (I didn’t feel bad not buying anything after I saw how dirty it was), but it meant we could continue on our way to find dinner.
Don’t you like how I include every last detail of this trip? (Well, really, I don’t. But almost every last detail.)
We went to l’Archetto for dinner, one of my favorite pasta places. My cousin Adam introduced us to the place, and I think you could probably go there every day for a year and get a different pasta. The menu is rather overwhelming.
But I tend to get the same thing every time. Don’t judge.
Pasta tropici. *sigh* Where else do you find pineapple and melons and pasta in a light cream sauce? Believe me, I’ve tried to replicate it here in the States, and I haven’t come close.
And I love how you can get little pitchers of house wine over there. I may or may not have ordered that little pitcher and had the whole thing myself. Okay, I may. It was little.
After dinner we walked to the Pantheon to get rose gelato, Megan’s favorite. (We didn’t get the gelato at the Pantheon. It’s sold at a place next to the Pantheon. We think it’s the only place in Rome that has it… and it’s not della Palma!) It’s a little flowery for me, but it’s worth getting to experience it, and she loves it, so I’m glad we found the place again and I’m glad they had it. I think we both paired it with dark chocolate.
My night pictures never turn out, but how can you resist a picture of rose flavored gelato with the Pantheon in the background?
*sigh* I really want to go back.
Thanks for sticking through that long post about Native Americans and having to go to the bathroom.
*One thing you’ll notice in Rome is that people start to tell you buona sera pretty early. They don’t wait until dinner time to tell you good evening, like we would around here. I’ve generally found that people start using “buona sera” after noon. Or after riposo, when you head back into town after your nap. : )