Sunday, June 4, 2017

Arriving in Rome

The Douglasses visited Rome twice in the winter and spring of 1887. The first time they arrived on January 19, "the day of days in our tour" Frederick proclaimed to his journal. "Like the mysterious lodestone to steel," he told a later audience, anyone with any love for history "is attracted by an invisible power and the attraction increases with every step of his approach" to Rome.

That was certainly the case for me. I chose Rome for my 50th birthday trip because, when I was in my early twenties and not so much living as existing in Houston, where everything was ugly and not allowed to stand for longer than 30 years, I wanted to see something that had endured longer than my own nation -- longer than Christ. I wanted to see beauty.

Unfortunately, the Douglasses arrived in Rome in the evening and, Frederick sighed, "we must curb our curiosity till morning." Waking added to their disappointment. "We were landed in the new part of the city which contradicted all our dreams of the Eternal City," he lamented, "To all appearances we might have been dropped down at any railway station in Paris, London or New York, or at some of the grand hotels at Saratoga or Coney Island."  I think that the young folk these days call that "humble bragging." Still, you can almost hear his crest fall as he describes a bustling, contemporary train station in which "all was more like an American town of the latest pattern than a city whose foundations were laid nearly a thousand years before the flight of Joseph and Mary into Egypt."

Perhaps all travelers experience that sort of clash between the imagined place and the city in which people actually live. For instance, on our first full day, we went to see the Colosseum, and a fundraiser for breast cancer research was taking place on the streets around the ancient center of the city.

I think I had prepared myself for that, or was used to the experience. Indeed, back when I was in my twenties, that was part of what I wanted to see: the juxtaposition of the ancient with the modern. You can find that around every corner in Rome, where every scratch on the earth's surface opens a layer of the past and half of the buildings seem held up by a wall built in the Middle Ages on a foundation build before Christ was born. As in this picture of the Teatro Marcello, which became part of a Medieval Villa, which is now apartments.

Here, the walls of an Etruscan temple lie under the Capitoline Museum, which is an edifice from the Renaissance, in a room built in the past decade to contain and preserve a bronze statue of Augustine dating to his own era.

The Douglasses checked into the Hotel Du Sud, located at 56 Via Capo le Case, which he pronounced "a very comfortable Hotel." I will confess that I did not do meticulous research before this particular trip because it was meant to be vacation with a little Douglass thrown in (I'm intending another that will be all Douglass), so I did not scope out the Hotel Du Sud's location before hand. Here is the Via Capo le Case according to my best friend, Google Maps.:

The heck of it is, I walked near there several times.

The Douglasses stayed in Rome until January 27, when they departed for Naples. In town for only a week, they saw the two major sites that draw most people to Rome: the ruins of the Roman Empire and the Vatican. 

This was the juxtaposition that fascinated Frederick. He later ruminated:
Here can be seen together the symbols of both Christian and pagan Rome; the temples of discarded gods and those of the accepted Savior of the world -- the Son of the Virgin Mary. Empires, principalities, powers and dominions have perished; altars and their gods have mingled with the dust; a religion which made men virtuous in peace and invincible in war, has perished or been supplanted, yet the Eternal City itself remains. 

Bearded Zeus becomes Jupiter becomes Michaelangelo's Creator. The Emperor becomes the Pope. Hadrian's Masoleum become the Pope's fortress becomes the Pope's palace. The statues of religious reverence become the statues of artistic reverence, but serve as the models for new objects of religious worship. The old myths become the metaphors for the new morality. The city regenerates.

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