We had slightly less than 48 hours in Rome on our way home from Turkey, just long enough to catch up with our dear friend Anny, visit the Maxii gallery and catch the exhibition from the Papal archives that’s on at the Capitoline Museums.
Anny had come down from her home in Florence to have dinner with us on Friday (our plane landed at 7.30 but it was nine o’clock by the time we met her at our hotel, and one in the morning by the time we said goodnight. We met up again to stroll along Via Cola Di Rienzo on Saturday morning, she had to catch the train back north for a Nora Jones concert that night. It was, as Anny said to an Italian friend on her mobile, ‘come si dice, Memory Lane‘. It was also a chance to hear her beautiful, lilting Italian as she did the honours with waiters, bus ticket sellers, and shop assistants.
Later in the afternoon, on our own again, we made our way to Maxii, a contemporary art museum, where there this wonderful creation loomed outside the main entrance.
Inside, the building was intriguingly maze-like with ramps and mezzanines and bridgeways, but I was unmoved and/or mystified by most of what I saw, the main exception being an exhibition of photographs by Paola de Pietri. These were gorgeous images of landscapes along a European border, of places – according to the curatorial statement – where there had been bitter fighting in the First World War: trenches worn smooth and partly filled with snow, others like scars near the crest of a hill, bunkers that could have been the remains of ancient shepherds’ huts, stony terrain, peaceful meadows. The impact was huge.
There was a beautiful presentation about a competition for young designers to make use of an area at the front of the museum. Each set of finalists discussed their project in larger than life video, while a written account of it scrolled down the wall, and a model and drawings could be perished at leisure. An even larger video showed the massive works involved in constructing the winning project. We ventured out to experience the finished thing. There were many seats made from slotted ply and cement, made to accommodate the human form in a variety of postures indicated by tiny ideograms. Sadly, whichever posture you chose, the seats were intolerably uncomfortable. I gather it’s not the first time a design competition has been won by something totally impractical.
This being Rome, we passed the odd antiquity and renaissance grandiosity on the way home.
At dinner time we walked to a little trattoria around the corner by way of St Peter’s square.
Sunday morning we walked – by way of Piazzo Navona, the statue of Pasquino, Campo Dei Fiori with its looming statue of Giordano Bruno who was burned there, and a caffe where no one could tell us how to get to the Musei Capitolini (‘Non lo so! Sono di San Giovanni, io) – to the Vatican archives exhibition.
Bernadette Soubirous wrote to one pope in a tiny neat handwriting, wishing him a holy life. Voltaire wrote to another congratulating him on his excellent Latin. A couple of popes wrote decrees establishing themselves as the supreme power on earth. A community of Native American Catholics wrote to the pope of their time. A Moroccan ruler wrote asking the pope to appoint a decent man to replace a recently deceased archbishop. More than one decree was issued ending the schism between the Roman Church and the Greek Orthodox Church. All of these documents were filed away in the Vatican archives, and all are among the hundreds of items on display.
There is a huge scroll, of which about four meters are exposed, containing the evidence taken against the Knights Templar. There’s a sizeable piece of paper beseeching the pope of the time to allow Henry VIII’s marriage to his first wife to be annulled, and hanging from the paper on leather thongs are the seals of the members of the House of Lords, at least fifty of them and every one elaborate. Photography was forbidden and there were no postcards. I gnash my teeth.
We had a quick look down on the forum below the Capitoline hill, a quick pasta lunch, a quick moment of respite from the heat at our hotel, then we were off to the airport. I’m typing this on the plane from Frankfurt to Singapore. The holiday is all but over.