Spiritual Rome

Our last full day in Rome started off sunny and warm and looked like a perfect day to explore more of Rome’s extraordinary fountains as I’ve already mentioned I have a great love for them. We checked our guidebook and came up with the itinerary for the day. We walked around “our” neighbourhood (it did really felt like ours at that point, it was an amazing place to get back to after a hectic day of enchanting discoveries). The area around the fountain where we’d hang out before going back to our hotel was empty now.
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And then out of the blue, the sky grew overcast and a dull rain began to fall making it a “perfect” day to explore the fountains. It was a celestial fountain now that prompted us to start making new decisions about the day. As we realized, it wouldn’t be wise to head out somewhere far, we stuck with “our” area and ended up not far from the Cavour metro station where I saw the signs for Saint Peter in Chains Church known for housing one of Michaelangelo’s unfinished works. We decided we would go see it as we wouldn’t staying outside anyway. We went down to an underground passage where we heard a man playing “L’Italiano vero”. It sounded good! Bravissimo! The church had a humble façade and wasn’t really imposing inside except for one massive masterpiece on the right – Michaelangelo’s statue of the Moses. Michaelangelo was commissioned to design a tomb for Pope Julius II but he never finished it. After his death, his assistants had to piece it all together according to Michaelangelo’s instructions. It had been intended to be a lot more tremendous. But anyway what we saw was really awe-inspiring. It was a very rich experience to see it here in this intimate setting without crowds of tourists. You have to pay 1 Euro to light up the sculpture for a better look at it. It’s one of the things I find utterly hypocritical about church and how they try to charge people for everything, but at the end of the day everyone has to make a living somehow (especially during the economic recession, you can’t just pray for God to put an end to it). We went further to the altar to see Peter’s chains that are said to have held Peter while he was in the Mamertine Prison here in Rome and that’s one of the ends of it that let loose as Peter was saved by an angel. There were some people praying here but being a non-believer would not raise eyebrows. It felt comfortable to be in here and that had nothing to do with deity. What made me emotional was seeing a man on a wheelchair being helped out of the building. His family must have gone to all this trouble of taking him here for him to see the Moses. I have no clue why but I felt like crying… That’s the power of art indeed!
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We went outside but it just wouldn’t stop raining. The weather was having its way (doesn’t it always?). We needed a spiritual shelter to protect us against the rain again and we made for Santa Maria Maggiore, one of Rome’s oldest and best-preserved churches. That was where I was sitting savouring my first Roman evening… It seemed like it was yesterday really! There were people crowding inside – another beautiful thing about Rome is that whenever you need a shelter, you can get inside plentiful churches for warmth and comfort regardless of your religious beliefs. The interior of the church was just breathtaking. I felt in heaven peering at the gilded ceiling. I sat on a bench to rest my feet without taking my eyes off the ceiling with my PC in my hands to guide me through the church. I stepped out the rainy technology-savvy world outside into some enigmatically comforting spirituality but I also brought a piece of it along with me and I was at peace enjoying the best of both worlds. It is the most important church honouring the Virgin Mary and there is an icon dedicated to her. I got my Mum an icon here too as I thought it would be the most suitable place to do that. Virgin Mary is a mum and we all look up to our mothers for comfort, guidance and protection (unless we’re in Rome where there are churches to do that for us). We all get a bit religious when it comes to our mothers… It takes a saint person to love a child unconditionally and see them through good and bad times for them to find their path in life. This is what this church celebrated for me – sacred motherhood.
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We went outside to find that the rain still wouldn’t stop and decided to do a little shopping. I noticed that most shop assistants in Rome are male and that makes the whole experience more pleasurable. It was amazing to get something other than souvenirs to take back home. Splashing in my bathtub using all these wonderful products thinking back to those beautiful days… No, it wasn’t my past yet, there were more memories to be made and good times to be had before we left the next day. The Roman rain wanted to linger on our skin for a little longer. All the spirituality of the morning made us hungry so we went to this lovely place across the road from our hotel and watched an international crowd there. It is nice to watch people mingling and interacting in a casual social setting. There were two elderly ladies with backpacks who looked British as they seemed a bit awkward and kept saying “Sorry!”. Being on the road must be a key to staying young after all! I was trying to stop myself from feeling reminiscent again as I was enjoying my home-made pasta and sipping on my wine. It just had to clear up and eventually it did and we headed straight to the Colosseum after a short break at our hotel. No, we were already reminiscent as I believe we wanted more of this iconic Roman landmark before we left. It was a totally different feeling to be walking by it now that we had been here for almost a week. I was trying to imagine what it felt to a local passing it by on a daily basis. We’d already been inside so there was no more pressure now. So now yes, it was just there – the magnificent and fragile Colosseum! What is life just outside it? It’s pretty much like everywhere else – there are people going about their daily lives, some tourists taking photos, men (and a large proportion of them are handsome) on their bikes strutting their stuff in gorgeous clothes. I couldn’t resist taking a photo of one against the Colosseum! We stayed for a bit in the park just across the road with a beautiful view of the colossal building. There was a group of dodgy-looking teenagers on a stroll but I realized there were people like this everywhere (the historical backdrop of the ancient times didn’t stop them). Other than that, it felt peaceful in this little park. Except that we got the Colosseum on the left…
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We decided to get on with our day of pilgrimage and made our way to San Giovanni Laterano, the first Christian church in Rome opened in 318 A.D. It was within a walking distance from the Colosseum but was a bit tricky to find. My sister was the one to brave the mazes of the streets that led to what used to be the city walls. I am rubbish at navigating the streets but I’m fairly good at making memories! The neighbourhood looked a bit isolated and there were just a few people around. There were yellow leaves on these lonely streets but I wasn’t ready to look into the future just for now. The moment we saw an Egyptian obelisk, we knew we’d got there as they were originally designed to guide pilgrimages. The one we saw was the tallest in Rome. There was a French-speaking family walking in front of us and it was funny to watch a little girl walking behind her parents taking photos without them even looking back to check on her. That was a different parenting pattern and it seemed to be working as the kid was obviously having a good time! This area felt different from what we had seen so far. The exterior of the church didn’t look too impressive (or were we getting used to seeing beauty all around?) and there were some nagging street sellers offering us books in Russian! No, thanks! The interior did look imposing even though I felt considerably more comfortable in Sante Maria Maggiore (or had I had enough of the churches for the day?). It was really large and walking around was like walking along a piazza. My sister needed to use a bathroom and she joined a queue outside it and the cleaning lady really surprised me when I heard her say that someone “made a shower” and my sister was the last one in the queue. She said it in a fairly good English! It felt a bit funny to be watching people queuing up to use the bathroom in a famous church but that is only natural. We went outside in a while to watch people in a different kind of a queue – to kneel over the famous stairs that Jesus Christ was said to have climbed. It wasn’t funny but it seemed a bit weird anyway. I wonder what kind of effect this had on believers and their faith. Did it hurt?
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We planned to see Basilica of San Clemente with its underground labyrinths but we failed to find it as hard as we tried. We dropped in to one of the churches that seemed to be right at this spot but it was a wrong church. We quickly made our way back. We were now on a mission to find the Via XX Settembre street that according to the map ran all the way through the Termini Station area. 20 September was the day marking Italy Unification and that, by chance, was my birthday! The Italian Republic and myself shared a birthday!
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It was not a touristy street and there were business-looking people all around. I was happy to be here. There were some state institutions and we felt a bit like aliens. There were a lot of shops selling clothes as well, especially fur. Who would need fur in Rome? Right, Russians! There was one last church that we wanted to find – Santa Maria della Vittoria as there was a really interesting piece of art by Bernini called St.Teresa in Ecstasy. But there was a service there so we couldn’t get in even though a polite homeless man let us in. “Well, maybe some other time”, we thought… There was a splendid fountain of the Moses (yes, remember what the mission for the day originally was?). It looked massive! It was like an elaborate painting with water streaming down it. Very impressive! We headed further to get on with our original mission to Piazza Barberini with Fountain of Bees by Bernini. The bee was the symbol of the Barberini family, hence the name. Before we checked out this famous fountain, we popped into a shop in the square to get some Italian food and drinks to take back home. The choice was really varied and an Asian shop assistant spoke amazing English. She offered me to try some garlic sauce and it tasted so good and I wish I had bought it. There was some very strong drink on sale that could cause you to hallucinate if you take too much (no use saying this to Russians!) and two men asked if it was safe to drink it in small portions. Before answering, the shop assistant asked where they came from and they said they are from Norway. “Aw, you can!”, she said. We all had a laugh about it! Well, she didn’t know where we came from… Stocked up on some pasta, spices and drinks, we went into a chemist’s to get some beauty products and found ourselves totally overwhelmed with a whole range of products for men! In Russia you don’t get this kind of variety (well, it shows when you walk down the streets of our country). There is normally a large section for women and a tiny little section for men. Yes, you have to invest in those looks, they don’t come for free! Italian men, I salute you! You make it all seem so effortless but now we know your secret! Piazza Barberini was a nice square with a relatively busy traffic. I was sitting there watching a helicopter up in the sky and the last thing I wanted was to get on one the next day…
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The late evening was settling in and it really hit us that was our last night in Rome… Night is indeed the most romantic time and it makes the thought of having to say goodbye simply unbearable… It is like parting with your summertime love that you had known all along wouldn’t last forever but that hardly makes getting over it any easier. Why did you have to look so beautiful tonight, Rome? I felt like an accomplished photographer looking at photos of you I took that night. Did you shine your extra light just for me to realize how happy I had been? You will be in my heart forever no matter what my regular landscape is! One last look at my snowwhite monument, more romantic songs to hear being played in the street… There was a spectacular light show in Trajan’s Forum showcasing the ancient Roman history with its main events projected onto the ancient buildings. Bravissimo! That was a kind of lesson worth travelling all this way for! I felt like shedding a tear…
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It was time for a farewell dinner in a cosy restaunrant overlooking Via Cavour. The waiter seemed to take an instant liking to my sister (well, Italian men will be Italian men!) but she said she was leaving the next day… Yes, we were. Scusi… A farewell gelato, a farewell look at the Colosseum at night… I was so reluctant to go to bed that night because there might not be another Roman night in my life. Well, I guess we need to count our blessings and be thankful for whatever we already have as a memory… It was so sad to be asked by a friendly Asian guy at the reception desk whether we needed a taxi for the airport for the next day… I even started missing him wishing me good night every night… Yes, he remembered it would all have to end so soon. But we have half of tomorrow with you, Rome! Bonne Notta!

Author: Olga

An English teacher and translator, a keen traveller

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