Wednesday, December 28, 2011


by Tracey Jackson

DEC 23, 2011. Glenn woke me up at seven and said I had to get up and post as he got three emails asking why I didn't write yesterday. The truth is we haven't stopped moving and yesterday we were up at the crack of dawn to make the first tour of the day at The Vatican.

The combination of neither one of us having been here in so long and this being the girl's first trip means we are taking in all the sights. Lucy is at that age where she does not want to look like a tourist anywhere, and I keep saying we are tourists!
Needs no explanation.
To break up the monotony of too many churches, ruins, Raphaels, and history we have broken it down so we do sights until four and then shop from four to seven. Sadly, I have to rush this morning, despite being woken up to blog and getting myself all juiced up on caffeine to do so, the internet went out for a half hour just as I was posting. In fact my first stab at this was better but I can't remember what I wrote.

First stop day before yesterday was The Colosseum. Lucy had studied it last year and was able to throw in some facts that even Glenn was impressed by. Taylor got an A in Latin so she can translate certain signs and things so it worked out well. Glenn knows everything about everything and I don't mean that snidely ... he just does, so he is our walking guide book. And me, well, even if I learned about it at one point I have forgotten it by now.
It sounds like a cliche but you do have to see it to believe it.
I don't have a wide angle lens, so I can't get it all in. I can barely use the two lenses I have.
Glenn just said to say this was the locker room of its day. So, this is the locker room of its day.
We spent much of the time losing each other in pairs. Had to grab photos when all together.
This cross was added recently.
The Constantine Arch.
First things first.
Hot Italian guy of the day. He won on personality.
We left the Colosseum and headed to the Palatine Hill. You could say they were the Beverly Hills of their day. It's where all the big cheeses lived, Augustus, Romulus, and the rest of the A-listers.
This little walk took a two hour excursion into a four hour one.
You can see why they picked this spot. The views are tremendous. Though obviously it did not look like this in the first century BC. However it goes to show that location, location, location has been around a long time.
It goes on forever.
Three hours in and Lucy is giving out.
Someone else had only just begun.
We stood in front of this and tried to figure out what he might have picked. We picked wrong.
Taylor said I have never heard him mention Romulus, why would he want to see his hut? Well, he did.
We found him in Augustus's house.
This explains a little of it.
The view from the top of the hill.
Another angle.
They took our picture then sat on a bench and said we are not moving. Granted we had been climbing for two hours at that point.
We headed down the hill to see The Forum. When in Rome!
Lunch followed by gelato and then more sights.
The Pantheon. Glenn can't believe I didn't get the dome.
I got it inside.
Raphael's tomb.
I have a thing for skulls. This one was especially compelling.
Clockwise from above: They kept announcing this in every language. No one really paid any attention; I tried; We ended up having a coffee in this square and then walked home and collapsed before dinner.
I usually hate tours. In fact I avoid them at all costs. But the lines to get into The Vatican are so long and there is so much to see I figured we had better just sign up, and follow a guide.
Gearing up for tour. "You've got to be kidding?"
If you get lost, look for the yellow flowers.
This was The Ugg Family. Every member wore a pair.
This is a snippet of the gardens. We stood outside for a long time hearing a lecture.
One of the hallways. Oddly it's not an easy place to get photos. There is always someone's head in the way. They also do not allow any photos in The Sistine Chapel.
This is one of those photos I took. "You've got to be kidding?" says Taylor. But I like it.
St. Peter's Basilica.
Inside St. Peter's.
Michelangelo's Pietà.
St. Peter is buried under that spot.
Better shot of the alter.
Clockwise from above: The Cross The Pope touches when he enters the Cathedral. Everyone who enters is allowed to touch it; Another one of the alter; The Pope's private apartments.
St. Peter's Square.

DEC 25, 2011. Italy is truly equal parts wonder and frustration. Yesterday was one of those days where that was constantly evident. Italy confounds and intoxicates within the span of two minutes.

The country is not in terrible financial shape for no reason. People really consider work to be a hindrance here. You go to a taxi stand and fifteen drivers all stand around debating something crucial like soccer or sex, and then have a 30-minute debate on who will take the fare. Unlike NYC where a driver will threaten his life and others by running a red light and crossing three lanes of traffic to pick you up.
All stopped working to come and demonstrate at noon.
I walked out of a store two days ago after holding my items for twenty minutes while the woman who worked there chatted with her friend about Christmas gifts. I finally put the things I wanted to buy away and left. For the American it does drive you a bit mad.

So you walk around rather infuriated for a spell, and then you turn a corner and are met with the most magnificent sight that takes your breath away, and all is forgotten.

Yesterday we had to go over to the Pantheon as I was turning in my tax refund forms before the airport. We got there and there was a typical Italian sight, a strike in the Piazza. I think this was the tenth one I have seen in five days.

What were they so upset about? What was the crucial issue?
They don't like the fuel used in the outdoor heating lamps. So they shut down the restaurant and took to the streets.
Then I went to the money exchange office. The brochure says it is open from ten to six. Now, as we know in the states, ten to six means ten to six.
He was gone for ten minutes. OK, that happens.
So we went and had a coffee and returned in ten minutes. Miracle of miracles he was there, finishing up a ham sandwich. I handed him my papers and passport. He said "Not working." I said you are here. He snarled at me, "I have to eat lunch" With that he swallowed the remains of his sandwich. I said "You're finished." He said "I need a break." He disappeared. Hadn't he just had a break?
He just left. A line was forming. He did not care.
But then I looked up and saw this and I could only smile. The yin and yang of Italy.
He did return to reluctantly do his job. That is the other thing: for many working is such a burden. They moan and groan. Perhaps he too was deeply upset about the fuel they used in the heating lamps across the Piazza.

Despite our own two protestors – they were on Church strike – we took off to The Basilica Santa Maria Maggiore. And then again you are reminded of what a magical place Italy is.
Santa Maria Maggiore.
Inside Santa Maria Maggiore.
After the Church, (how many pictures of Churches can I show) we stopped for lunch.
Again all is forgiven and pleasure overrides order.
After our pizza we went off to explore the gentrified neighborhood of Monti. I had heard about a store that was apparently very in. I asked the waiter how to get there. Unlike the French, the Italians are happy to give you directions, even if they are not correct. He told me to walk straight, eventually I would run into a subway station, we should then go down, and on the second level we would find the store.

Wow, this must be very of the moment, or as Lucy says, shut the front door, when she thinks something is awesome. So we got to the subway. I dragged everyone down the steps, they all thought I was mad. Which of course turned out to be true as there was nothing there but a vending machine. I clearly was in the wrong Metro stop.

I don't know how it happened but we stumbled into Monti. For New Yorkers, I guess it would be Nolita in the beginning or parts of the East Village; In LA it would be say, Silverlake 17 years ago, with one major exception, it's in Italy.

Store sign. It doesn't look like much, but it's on three levels.
We get to this little hipster hood of Monti, and shut the front door, I see the Metro, and next to the Metro is the shop. The shop wasn't in the Metro, it was just outside it. Something got lost in translation. The shop looked adorable. It was clearly in many guidebooks and on many lists as there was a gaggle of people waiting to get in.

The sign in the window said that annoying "Opens at 3:30." At this point it was maybe 3:20, and the woman who ran it was inside doing nothing. Nada. Niente. She wasn't taking inventory, arranging the window or doubled over in pain, she was staring at the growing group who wanted inside. She had nothing to do. It was two days before Christmas, the economy is falling to pieces; wouldn't common sense dictate open the damn store and collect some Euros.

It would have been easy, but she refused and ignored everyone. I said to my group "Let's go." I'm not giving them money if they can't open. Did they lose a sale? Yes. Did they care? I guess not. But when you think about this with an American mind set you cannot make sense out of it. You go for the sale, not the break. They should all go to Asia where the stores are open until midnight. See Taipei, they never close. It's a goofy way to run a country, though nobody has asked for my advice.

But then as we made our way down the streets of Monti, old buildings dotted with trendy shops, the glories of Italy that blessedly allow you to forget the problems of Italy made themselves apparent.
People waiting to for it to open. See the Metro in the back?
One of the main streets of Monti. Taylor in the street.
A glass shop. They were re-opening at four as we got there.
Looking up (left) and into the ground floor (right) of the glass shop.
Down a side street, the flag caught in the vines that connect two buildings.
Then as you come out of the area .... look at what you see. How do you not fall in love at that moment?
A few feet ahead was this.
Making our way up the hill.
And a few feet up and to the left – this.
And this ...
We kept walking.
And then we came upon this.
What else is there to say?
Writer Tracey Jackson is author of this year's "Between and Rock and a Hot Place;" also a screenwriter, last film "Confessions of a Shopaholic."