They’re lying, of course

The Republican party has been hard at work for years protecting the sanctity of your right to vote. At least that’s what they claim with straight faces in front of the camera.

Here’s how you know they’re lying.

Republicans want you to believe that your vote is under attack from fraudulent voters, hundreds, thousands, nay millions! of them. They want you to believe that not only do people vote who have no right to do so,[1] but that the Democrats are deliberately letting those people[1] into the country to tip the electoral scales in their favor.

This is a lie, of course. There is not any evidence of voting fraud in any state in the U.S. that has affected any election. Here’s a round-up of voter fraud studies from the Brennan Center for Justice, none of which I expect you to go read. Here’s the pertinent quote:

The report reviewed elections that had been meticulously studied for voter fraud, and found incident rates between 0.0003 percent and 0.0025 percent. [Ed: That’s between 3 to 25 votes out of 10,000.] Given this tiny incident rate for voter impersonation fraud, it is more likely, the report noted, that an American “will be struck by lightning than that he will impersonate another voter at the polls.”

And if the data from multiple studies are not convincing, go look at the Heritage Foundation’s page on voter fraud. The Heritage Foundation is the conservative think tank that is source of much mischief in today’s politics, and — in an ironic twist, the source of key provisions in ObamaCare.[2]

See the number of PROVEN INSTANCES OF VOTER FRAUD, KENNETH? 1,165!!!!!1!! One thousand, one hundred and sixty-five FRAUDULENT VOTES! PROVEN!!!! Are you not concerned?

No, because you are a sane human being and recognize immediately that the number 1,165 is unaccompanied by any context. Is this in one election? Or is it across the country over a period of years out of hundreds of millions of votes? You can’t tell from their page, nor can you tell if you click on your state: all you get is a list of offenders without which elections they occurred in, nor what years. If you actually download the “report,” you get nothing more than a list of those 1,165 instances, separated out by state. There is no compilation or analysis of data, only dire warnings that this list is a “sampling” of the “many ways” voter fraud occurs.

In other words, complete and utter fuppery.

But let’s back up and pretend that the Republicans are genuinely concerned about voter fraud. Given that the amygdala-based lifeforms that make up the Republican Party need fear and anger to feed their brains, this is not an unreasonable assumption. However, this is not the case.  They’re lying.

Here’s how you know:

Example 1: Here in Georgia, leaving aside Sec. of State Kemp’s documented attempts to purge voters from the roles, we have the example of Randolph County, majority black population. A consultant hired by the county advised them to close seven out of nine[3] polling places in the county, based on the facts that some of them were underused and others were not ADA compliant.

Example 2: In North Dakota, the (Republican-controlled) legislature passed a “voter-identification law” that “requires that… IDs have street addresses printed on them and specifically bans using a P.O. Box.” And wouldn’t you know it, many Native Americans living on reservations do not have street addresses; they live so far out in the boonies that they have P.O. boxes instead. And in what is an amazing coincidence, Native Americans tend to vote Democratic.

Here’s a photo from our cross-country trip in 2013, taken in Monument Valley, which is not a national park but Navajo tribal land:

See those little white dots in the lower left? Those are trailers. Do they look as if they have street addresses?

So here’s the deal. Sometimes it occurs that after legislation is passed, the Law of Unintended Consequences kicks in and problems that the lawmakers didn’t foresee crawl to the surface. You would hope that we elected smarter people to handle this, but here we are.

If the Republicans’[4] true concern was legitimate voting, if they had passed that law in good faith, they would react with dismay at the unintended consequences and would quickly and publicly fix the problem. “Oh no, let’s hurry up and get those voting places up to ADA code,” or “Goodness, how could we have missed that? Let’s amend the law to exclude the street address requirement from Native American reservations!”

But they don’t. Indeed, they fight tooth and nail to preserve those unintended consequences.

Because — and follow this closely — these are not unintended consequences. The Republicans pass these laws specifically to exclude certain voters[5] from voting.

They’re lying if they say otherwise.

Go vote.

—  —  —  —  —

[1] BROWN PEOPLE, KENNETH!

[2] The individual mandate was the Heritage Foundation’s response to Hillary Clinton’s healthcare proposal back in the 90s. They weren’t about to let all those poor people get free healthcare, so they put in the individual mandate so that everyone would have “skin in the game” (and still allow the insurance companies to feed off our healthcare). After Mittens Romney instituted the plan in Massachusetts and it worked, Barack Obama adapted it for the Affordable Care Act. Suddenly the idea was anathema to the weasels at Heritage because freedumz. Odd, that.

[3] Seven of Nine? Really, Republicans?

[4] It. Is. Always. Republicans.

[5] BROWN PEOPLE, KENNETH!

A simple proposal

I voted yesterday. Normally I don’t do early voting, but this year’s election has driven saner men than I to desperation.

In all the contested races I voted for the Democrat because oh my god have you seen those other guys? But what to do when an incumbent Republican is running unopposed?

Here’s what I did: I clicked on WRITE-IN and wrote in NONE OF THE ABOVE.[1]  Easy.

Does it count? No. But imagine if everyone who didn’t want the unopposed candidate wrote in NONE OF THE ABOVE — how wondrous would it be if an unopposed candidate got fewer votes than NONE OF THE ABOVE?

It might even make the Democratic Party decide they could run on progressive issues and take seats from these fuppers.

—  —  —  —  —

[1] Full disclosure: there were several unopposed Republican incumbents for whom I voted because I know they are not crazy right-wingers. But I still wish I had had a progressive candidate to vote for.[2]

[2] And no, it’s not going to be me, so don’t ask.

Colonies — what are they good for?

This popped up on Twitter this morning:

Dinesh D’Souza is of course the right-wing commentator (also convicted felon) who gets his ass handed to him regularly on Twitter by People Who Actually Know Things, but this tweet of his just kind of jumped out at me. (Ocasio-Cortez is the far left congressional candidate in New York, and she’s awfully good at smacking down idiots.)

Ocasio-Cortez’s second comment kind of sums up my reaction to D’Souza, but there’s more to it, I think. His entire attitude — and not just in this tweet — is Ayn Randian to the max: there are weak and there are strong, and the strong are good, vital, and important. The weak are there only to serve the strong.

Look at his language: ‘colony,’ ‘provide resources,’ ‘rule.’  Holy crap, people, it’s unvarnished colonialism, and he means it as a good thing. Remember the TV series V? D’Souza would have sided with the aliens.

That is not a strained metaphor. He is stating pointblank that if our “colony”[1] has nothing more to provide us — and that is clearly his rhetorical presumption — we should abandon them to their fate now that we’ve stripped them of what we needed. They are of no benefit to us; therefore let them die and decrease the surplus population.

This is a worldview that I cannot understand.  This is a worldview that I cannot “reach out to” or “have a meaningful discussion with.”

This is a worldview that I want to see exterminated.

—  —  —  —  —

[1] They are not our colony and never were. They were Spain’s colony; they are our territory, and that quasi-legal status is a whole other issue.

Italy — Pro Tips

Finally, we have my Pro Tips that I learned about traveling in Italy, especially on a guided bus tour.

Attire

You will read that Italians are snappy dressers, very fashion conscious, and this is true. Resist the urge to match them — they are merely strolling to lunch; you are on a forced march. Comfy shoes are a must; you will be on cobblestones most of the trip. Still, do better than most tourists I saw; there’s no point in being a slob.

Short shorts and bare shoulders are frowned upon — and in many cases forbidden — in the churches. Climate change has forced a moderation of that dress code as far as regular shorts go, but ladies should still expect to cover up. Most churches will sell paper shawls for one or two euros.  Buy one and keep it for next time.

Meals

There is a structure to Italian meals, and menus are arranged around it:

  • Antipasti: literally “before the meal”; appetizers. Do not fill up on them.
  • Primi piatti: “first dishes”; pasta. Do not fill up on it, although we realized at some level that this is the point — fill up your tummy with inexpensive pasta so that you don’t have to spend that much on meat to feed your family
  • Secondi piatti: meats, all kinds
  • Desserts: yum, but if you want my advice, skip it and hit the gelato shop down the street

Do not be afraid to skip one or more courses. Order as you would back home. Also, if you’re on a tour and are being served all the courses, do not be afraid to leave pasta on your plate. It’s not rude, and there’s no point in gorging yourself.

Ask for cacio e pepe, pasta with cheese and black pepper. You won’t regret it.

Order the house wine.

Floor numbering

We have first floor, second floor, etc., and basement — they start with 0 floor, then 1st floor, 2nd floor, etc., and basement is -1.

Write down your hotel room number in your Waste Book. That way you will avoid swiping your card over and over and wondering why the door isn’t opening when in fact you are on the wrong floor — 2nd floor was in Venice; Florence is 1st floor.

Italian

Learn the basics.  Almost every person you run into speaks English very well, which will make you feel stupid, but you can at least learn to say “Good morning,” “Good evening,” and “Thank you.”

You will hear your tour guide say the word “allor” a lot; it’s a filler word, meaning variously “well then,” “so, OK,” “moving on,” that kind of thing.

Museum tickets

Ask about timed tickets for museums you are interested in. You get to go to the happy line and to avoid the sad line.

Money

Italians will not make change. They have an irrational aversion to it. If all you have to pay for a €6 item is a five and a fifty, they will take the five rather than break a €50 bill.

Also, the concept of taking your €50 bill and trading you smaller bills for it is utterly alien to them. They will not do it, not at the hotel, not at a shop, probably not even at a bank, although we didn’t get the chance to test that one.

They are also skittish about tipping. They will never ask for it and will even refuse it. One reason is that they are paid a living wage; another is that a small service charge is usually built into the bill at restaurants. You can round up the bill and that’s fine, but otherwise they are really uncomfortable with the practice. I gave a €5 bill as a tip to a taxi driver (I was so tired I wasn’t thinking straight) and he just held it and stared at me incredulously until I took it back, apologized, and left him a €2 coin instead, which he accepted with a shake of his head. A waiter in Vico Equense ran all the way from the restaurant to the place where we were meeting the hotel shuttle to return an item one of us had left behind and point blank refused a tip for doing so.

Keep a list of your purchases in your Waste Book. That way you can fill out the customs form upon reentering the U.S. without being afraid of being caught out trying to sneak in items you completely forgot you had purchased. (Both last year and this year, Customs at Hartsfield-Jackson were willing to take our word for it that we were not bringing more than $800 worth of stuff, but it’s better if you’re prepared to be honest if necessary.)

The Sun

If you’re lucky enough to have good weather, you will need something to keep the sun out of your eyes. I bought an umbrella in Venice because it looked like rain, but I used it the rest of the trip as a parasol.

I purposely didn’t take a straw hat because I didn’t want to deal with it on the plane or to crush it in packing. However, hats are for sale everywhere — consider buying one.

Sunscreen is important: you will be out in the sun much of most days.

Random

Google “how to use a bidet in Italy.” The rest is on you.

Italy — Day 9/10

Monday, September 10, Sorrento

Here’s the thing: a Viking River Cruise is one thing, a forced march across Italy is quite another. When we were planning this trip a couple of months ago, there were only a couple of optional side trips, but one of them was a full-day excursion to the Isle of Capri on day 9.

Ah, Capri! That epitome of Mediterranean islandness! Blue Grotto! Boat ride! Chair lift!

However, a wise traveler knows himself.  The Lovely First Wife is one who, when she travels, wants to DO ALL THE THINGS, KENNETH; me, not so much. I know my limits, and I knew that by day 9 of the trip I was going to need a personal day, particularly if where we were staying was a resort with spa. So way back in June or whenever it was, I (and Mary Frances) opted out of the optional excursion to Capri. Marc and LFW were going to forge ahead, and more power to them.

On these tours, once you arrive at your starting point your tour manager will continue to give you the option to sign up (if the excursions are not full).  Poor Ignazio did his best to convince us to go to Capri all the way up to the last possible minute, but we stubbornly declined.

So when I woke up on Monday morning, the LFW was gone, and I had a day to breathe in the sea air. I had breakfast, I had lunch, I caught up on the blogging (a little bit):

I had a massage. I napped. I had cocktails.

Anyway, the day passed in blissful sunshine and non-trudging; finally our spouses returned from what they claimed was a lovely excursion, although we did notice that they were hot, exhausted, and annoyed with the huge crowds and tacky tourist zones. (“Panama City of Italy,” they called it, so that would make it the “Redneck Riviera Riviera”?) We all won.

Tuesday, September 11

About a third of the tour group had signed up for the short version of the tour, so they went home on Tuesday morning. The rest of us loaded into the bus to drive down the Amalfi Coast to Amalfi.

Everyone will tell you that the Amalfi Coast is stunning, and they are correct.  What they probably don’t mention is that it’s a two-lane road that hugs the sides of mountains/fjords, so it is 18 kilometers of switchbacks hundreds of feet in the air:

Whee! Can you say “vertiginous”?

Whenever one travels, one does wonder what it would be like to move to the area. Amalfi is lovely, but OMG the traffic on that two-lane road! Bumper to bumper, and a lot of it tour buses easing past each other while scooters zip between them. It took us over an hour to go 18 km.  People parked along the sides, buses parked along the sides. I would have to move in with Sophia Loren and use her yacht to go get groceries.

See how they’ve left enough room for passing? (You think I am joking.) Notice also the car parked on the sidewalk.  What are pedestrians to do? They could cross over and use that sidewalk on the other side IT IS TOO A SIDEWALK, or they could just step out into the street and go around the car.

Let’s talk about Italian traffic. It seems to be an international joke that Italians are crazy drivers, but that’s not at all what I saw.  The Italians are phenomenal drivers in ways that Americans simply cannot wrap their heads around. Here, watch this video:

Everyone takes turns, everyone watches out for each other, nobody gets hurt. You just inch your nose out into the stream, and the next guy lets you in. You see a pedestrian getting ready to cross the street — at a crosswalk, even! — and so you stop to let them cross. We took a taxi in Rome late one night when the Italians are just starting their passeggiata, and at one point I thought the driver was on a pedestrian mall: the street was full of people, just strolling and chatting and shopping. But it was a major street, and the driver just eased his way down it. Pedestrians moved out of the way, he swerved left or right, and on we went. (Italian drivers are OK; it’s the pedestrians who are crazy.)

I could watch Italian traffic all day, especially intersections. Places where we would have traffic lights and turn lanes were miracles of smooth cooperation. It was like watching a video of what driverless cars  would be like: each vehicle sensing when it was its turn to go. Somehow they make it work.  I’d love to see data on traffic accidents per 1000 population for the U.S. and Italy (with accidents caused by non-Italians broken out). I suspect we’d see far fewer fender benders in Italy.

Anyway, the views along the way are spectacular:

Along the way — of this narrow, cliff-hugging two-lane road — there was this:

This is a miniaturization of the village we just passed through, and on the right-hand side, out of frame, is a little cliffside nativity. We’ve seen this before, right?

Historically, Amalfi was a maritime merchant stronghold, very wealthy and very secure. They built into the cliffs for protection, and like Venice, they never seemed to feel the need to abandon their preposterous location once they were safe. They are still building into the cliffs.

Lunch was good; we saved a table for Sophia Loren, but she didn’t show. Some nice shopping areas, along with the usual touristy stuff.

The Cathedral of St. Andrew:

ADA compliance? Che cos’è quello?

Originally built in the 9th century, it was redone and expanded and consolidated over the centuries into the current structure.

The original style was “Arab-Norman,” which I was unaware was a thing. Both the front arcade and the “Cloister of Paradise” feature these ornate arches:

The front doors are bronze, made in Constantinople, and are the earliest post-Roman examples of the craft.

The path through the cathedral starts with a chapel (the original church, modernized) which serves as a museum:

From there, you descend into the crypt of St. Andrew, and the bare Romanesque chapel does not prepare you:

Altar on the left there, and around back you can peer into the crypt where they have the relics of St. Andrew.

I liked this inlaid marble panel:

It was unlike any pattern I’d ever seen in these churches, and it’s only just now looking at it that I see the saltire/St. Andrew’s crosses in it. Ground/figure, go figure.

The cathedral itself:

Back to the bus, and thank Caesar we took a non-coastal route back to the hotel. Shower, prosecco on the terrace, and a shuttle into Vico Equense, where we ate our last meal in Italy at another restaurant named Tito’s.

As we strolled, there was a shop, Agenzia Cioffi — the sign said they were an “automotive consulting firm,” whatever that is. The display on the front of the building had car tags from all over:

Lest Hall County start getting the big head, there was another, older one from Franklin County.

Finally we caught the shuttle back to the hotel, repacked, went to sleep, woke up at 2:00 am, Kenneth, placed our bags in the hall, and boarded the bus at 3:00.

I will spare you the experience of getting back to Atlanta, only to say that watching the Business Class people get checked in first at the Naples airport, only to walk out the door to find a shuttle bus that would take all of us out to the tarmac, was a lot of fun. Also, Charles de Gaulle in Paris: you’re lovely, but you’re no Hartsfield-Jackson.

FINALLY: PRO TIPS, next up.

 

 

Italy — Day 8

Sunday, September 9: We hit the bus and head down to Pompeii.

We only had about an hour and a half in the ruins, and our tour guide was not very good, so this is a pitiful overview of the place. We all knew the basic story, and Maria (I think was her name) never checked our level of knowledge before telling us what we already knew. Bad teaching, and equally bad docenting, if that’s a word.

Here’s the entrance:

Someone in the group said they saw Sam Waterston leaving as we were coming in. Might have been fun to say hi to him and remind him that for a season or two of I’ll Fly Away, we were practically neighbors.

It was quite hot that day — it was warm most of the trip — so watching our step and avoiding the other tourists became very wearing.

Here are the remains of a private home:

You can tell it was a private home because it had a pool and marble columns, Maria said. She offered no other details, such as how the family occupied the space.  Oh well.

Here’s a bronze that I thought was a bit avant garde for 79 AD:

Especially when you look closely:

I asked about it — Maria apparently planned to ignore it — and was told that it was not in fact Roman but part of an exhibition from 2014 of works by Polish sculptor Igor Mitoraj, who died shortly before the exhibit opened; the powers that be decided to keep two of his sculptures in his honor. This is one; the other we saw on our trek up to the entrance — I’ll come back to it.

More ruined homes, with mosaic floors:

Roman colony though it was, Pompeii’s streets were more like open sewers, so stepping stones every 30 feet or so were necessary for pedestrian traffic:

Maria did fill us in on something I had not known: like Rome, Pompeii was a “lasagna,” and archaeologists are unearthing the Greek colony that came before the Romans took over.  Here’s the Greek amphitheatre:

It’s been restored and is used for concerts and performances.  (The white marble seats are original; the rest are new construction.) Maria took care to explain that this facility was for “cultural” performances, not gladiator movies.

Ah, the baths!

This was the gym portion, with a swimming pool to the left. Ladies were on the far side, men to the right. We went to the men’s facilities.

Lockers, no lie:

Three rooms, cold, tepid, and hot water, which was heated by hot air from ovens outside, pumped into the space beneath the elevated floor:

On the way out, Maria made sure we saw this on the street.  The more delicate among you should avert your eyes. The rest of you, well, I would say get your mind out of the gutter, but…

She didn’t really explain why this was here. It might have indicated a brothel, or it might just be a sign of protection: Priapus was highly honored in Pompeii. (You can buy winged phallus amulets and even winged phallus bottle openers out in the tourist zone.)

On our way out, more ruins, a temple I think:

I think it would take at least a day to see the major points of interest in Pompeii, not to mention Herculaneum, the city on the other side of Vesuvius that was destroyed by lava. (Pompeii was covered in ash.) So those of you who came here looking for pornographic Roman frescoes — sorry.  Google is your friend.

So on the way out we got a rear view of another Mitoraj:

Maria told us it was called Achilles; she was mistaken — it is Daedalus. When we arrived, this was the view we got:

I remember thinking when we came in that it didn’t look like a Greek or Roman bronze, for several reasons, but mostly this one.

We trudged back to the bus and headed towards Sorrento. Mostly we traveled through rather slummy looking areas of metropolitan Naples, so Ignazio alerted us to get our cameras ready for the view when we came out of a tunnel:

Almost anything can look picturesque if you’re far enough away.

The view from our hotel, the Towers Hotel:

Yes, that’s Mt. Vesuvius across the bay. No, that’s not smoke — it’s a nearly omnipresent cloud.

After we checked in — and showered — we headed into Sorrento for yet another shopping opportunity, although this time it was at a really good marquetry establishment, family owned since 1852 and now in its sixth generation. Our purchase should be delivered today.

Dinner was at a small cafe. At least that’s what it looked like until you entered it and found yourself climbing into a Hello, Dolly fantasy world:

Terrace after terrace of tables and plants, ending in our private dining area:

Ignazio was kind enough to take a photo of us:

Great meal, and total exhaustion.  Back to the hotel and bed.

ONLY ONE MORE BLOG POST TO GO, and then the Pro Tips. Woot!

Italy — Day 7

It’s still Wednesday, and I’m somewhere over the North Atlantic. Evidence of Hurricane Florence is not yet apparent. Here’s the view from the plane’s camera:

[update: as we approached Hartsfield-Jackson, we flew over the property where Alchemy will be held — I got to see my domain from above!]

Pretty spiffy, but there is no wifi on this 777, and the USB port doesn’t seem actually to charge anything—it’s just for you to “work with your USB files,” whatever that means.

So, Saturday in Rome. First up, the Forum. Actually, there are two Fora: the Imperial Forum…

…and the Roman Forum:

Like you, I had always presumed that after Rome fell, the Forum just kind of hung around being ravaged for spare parts (“a Lego set,” as Susanna put it). But no. Sure, some of it got taken apart and used for churches and other buildings, but mostly it was completely buried until the 17th century.

Then it was excavated, ravaged for spare parts, and hung around. Mussolini had it further excavated and protected, and the excavation continues today. (The Imperial Forum is under excavation as we speak.)

Here’s a temple with a church inside it.

The Christians tried to tear the temple down, with all its bad pagan juju and all; you can see the scars on the upper parts of the columns where they tried pulling them down with ropes—to no avail. So they built the church inside the temple.

Original Roman road:

The Christians left this triumphal arch up…

… because it memorialized Titus’s sack of Jerusalem in 70 AD and was thus tangentially connected with Jesus. You can see the parade featuring the menorah and other spoils of war from the Temple.

By Dnalor 01 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0 at, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32817772

From the Forum, we hit the Colosseum:

It wasn’t called the Colosseum by the Romans. It was just the Stadium. But it is colossal.

The original floor was dirt, but it was soon excavated and covered with a removable wooden floor. At first the floor could be removed and the pit flooded for reenactments of famous naval battles (or at least the ones the Romans won)…

…but that was expensive and wasn’t as big a draw as the violent entertainments, so an entire underground complex of dressing rooms, cages, and trapdoors with elevators was built. Susanna’s narration made the deliberate cruelty of the culture too painful to listen to.

The gladiators had a training arena and dormitories across the street, connected by a tunnel to the stadium (the triangular opening). They were cosseted, since they were critical investments, and they made extra cash by leaving their bedroom doors unlocked for anyone who wanted to spend the night there “discussing philosophy,” as Susanna put it.

Here we all are, outside the Colosseum, where one of our party tripped and fell. It was serious, a broken radius and ulna, and while we paused for triage, a bride in full regalia came quickly across the street, followed by an attendant and a photographer. Suddenly we were in a Fellini movie. (You can barely see her white-veiled head to the upper left of our crowd.)

Up we went to the church of St. Peter in Chains, because Susanna is something of a Michelangelo freak and she wanted us to see the work he considered his best: Moses.

Remember the unfinished “slaves” from Julius II’s tomb? This where Julius finally ended up, after bickering between his successor and his family over his final resting place. It’s not quite as grand as his original commission of a grand pyramid with 44 sculptures by Michelangelo.

And here you see the great Julius in his final repose.

Well, hello, sailor. It is otherwise a pretty restrained church…

…except for some of the chapel decorations, like this one:

Well, hello, sailor.

After that we were left to our own devices, so we moseyed around until we found a café with a great name:

We thought it meant “Don’t Trip Over the Cat,” but it actually translates as “No Tripe for Cats!” Food was good, too. But even better was a place our tour manager Ignazio told us about, Grezzo/Raw Chocolate. They do not cook their chocolate, only dry it and grind it. The result is a gelato to die for. I had a double scoop of chocolate and raspberry:

Ignazio had advised us all to head back up around the Colosseum to get a front view of the Victor Immanuel Monument, but we decided to head in the opposite direction to St. Maria della Vittoria. On the way, I was ordered take this photo, because it just seemed impolite to the memory of Chirico not to:

On the way, we found one of the disappointing stationery stores — although I did buy some brown inks — and a fountain, seen here from a distance:

It featured four copies of our old friend, the kitty from the Vatican…

… and a somewhat less than imposing Moses.

He looks more like a Peter Max version of Odin or something. (The horns thing comes from an early mistranslation of the original Hebrew text describing Moses returning from Mt. Ararat with the Commandments: his head was said to radiate beams of light. St. Jerome mistook the word for “animal horns.” Mistakes were made.)

Here’s the exterior of Maria della Vittoria:

I thought at the time, and Wikipedia confirms, that it looks an awfully lot like (“inspired by”) the church of St. Susanna across the street, guys.

St. Susanna. Not to be confused with Santa Maria della Vittoria. ACROSS THE STREET.

I don’t know that I would have built my shamelessly stolen design right across the street, but maybe mores were different back then?

And here’s the inside:

It has a cool architectural trick: little domes over the chapels that allow sunlight to streak in.

The altarpiece:

And the reason we trekked all the way up there:

The Ecstasy of St. Teresa, by Bernini. We see the moment of Teresa’s description of being pierced by a flaming dart at the hands of an angel, and she knew God. Here’s what she said in her autobiography:

I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the iron’s point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it. The soul is satisfied now with nothing less than God. The pain is not bodily, but spiritual; though the body has its share in it. It is a caressing of love so sweet which now takes place between the soul and God, that I pray God of His goodness to make him experience it who may think that I am lying.

Teresa’s robes float and writhe with her, and Rome was so stunned and enthralled that Bernini’s style was immediately copied all over Europe.

After Teresa, my LFW and I then went on a private mission to find what the guidebook said was the mother of all stationery stores in Rome. On the way, we came across the Spanish Steps again, this time from the top:

It’s pretty high up. Thank Caesar we were going down.

The celebrated stationery store was a complete failure, little more than place for Moleskines and Rhodias. Sure, it had more notebooks than that first store, but there was nothing there that I couldn’t buy in Newnan. Ugh. We took a cab back to the hotel, showered, and joined the tour for a dinner followed by a bus ride around Rome at night, and we did get to see the Victor Immanuel Monument:

Only a couple more days to go, and three hours more in the air—we can do this!

Italy — Day 6

It’s Wednesday, and I’m on an Air France 777 somewhere over Caen, heading back to ATL.

On Friday we were in Rome.

As you know, Vatican City is an independent state. It used to be its own kingdom, but when Italy was united in 1870 the Holy See lost all its temporal property; Pope Pius IX pitched a hissy and refused to talk to anyone.

In 1929, the government of Italy signed a treaty with Pope Pius XI, agreeing to his sovereignty over his 110 acres, plus a ton of tax goodies and privileges.

While our hotel is in sight, indeed, of walking distance, of St. Peter’s, it was necessary for us to board the bus, get dropped off, walk around the walls, and enter through the Vatican Museum.

Here’s our first view of the Vatican:

It didn’t get better:

Ever.

Out into the gardens…

The brass sculpture back there is a modern piece depicting the church. Despite the polished perfection of most of its surface, there are some gnarly bits that represent the ongoing construction of the faith.

It rotated majestically, and here’s my favorite bit:

He stood there, rotating majestically with the globe, allowing the crowds to admire him. So unlike our dear Pope Francis, no?

Here’s a kitty:

It’s stone, from Egypt, from the time of Cleopatra, I think. Remember him.

We enter the museum itself:

First up, Greek/Roman sculptures:

An athlete of some kind; I think he originally held a spear.

The Apollo Belvedere:

I have a bronze copy of this statue in the labyrinth.

The original Laocöon:

Dionysus:

I do not have an actual Dionysus/Bacchus in the labyrinth (playing off the dichotomy between the cool, cerebral Apollo and the ecstatic Dionysus). I have a bronze Dancing Faun (from Pompeii) who stands in for him, though, because he’s much more ecstatic. This Bacchus seems closer to being a member of 3 Old Men than his usual portrayal as a joyful, androgynous youngling.

In this hall…

… was this Greek torso. It was one of the early discoveries, and let’s talk about that a moment.

Before the Renaissance, no one remembered the Greco-Roman world; it was all buried literally under their feet. Our tour guide Susanna—the best we had on the trip—called the city a “lasagna”: layer upon layer of city after city built on top of each other. Once people started stumbling across the remains of the former civilizations, it was like a light switch going on.

This torso in particular helped spark the Renaissance, the rebirth of Roman perfection. No one had seen a sculpture with such accurate anatomy in centuries, and they got to work copying it.

This torso, in fact, is the very torso in the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke’s “Archaic Torso of Apollo.”

We cannot know his legendary head
with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso
is still suffused with brilliance from inside,
like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,

gleams in all its power. Otherwise
the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could 
a smile run through the placid hips and thighs
to that dark center where procreation flared.

Otherwise this stone would seem defaced
beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders
and would not glisten like a wild beast’s fur:

would not, from all the borders of itself,
burst like a star: for here there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.

This is kind of cool:

This is an enormous bowl made from a single piece of porphyry. There are several large objects like this scattered around. I regret to say I cannot remember what this one’s original purpose was, but the Vatican turned it into a fountain.

Here’s the Emperor Claudius, for those who remember him and who have the eerie sense that we’re seeing a rerun of I, Claudius from PBS. (No, the real Claudius was not ripped like a soccer player; his head was “photoshopped” onto the body, as was the custom of the time. Y’all remember this when it comes time to build my memorial.)

In case you have forgotten:

Here’s a fun one:

This is Diana, from the temple at Ephesus, which you will perhaps remember from St. Paul’s letters to the Ephesians and Shakespeare’s Pericles, Prince of Tyre. As Susanna said, “Those are not mangoes.” The odd thing is that there is some conjecture that those are not breasts, but testicles. Make of that what you will.

I just liked this bowl with the ugly, naked dwarfs holding it up.

Here’s Dionysus as we know and love him:

Moving on:

The scenery, of course, was stunning:

Down some stairs…

… outside…

… along a couple more passages…

…and here we are coming out of the Sistine Chapel.

What, no photos of Michelangelo’s masterpieces? Nope. The official excuse is that too many people were taking flash photos — STOP TAKING FLASH PHOTOS IN MUSEUMS, PEOPLE; IT’S NOT HARD TO TURN YOUR FLASH OFF[1] — but I seem to recall that the Japanese company that funded the restoration got some kind of copyright on the ceiling. Inside St. Peter’s Basilica, though, there were no restrictions on photography.

The place is huge.

Bernini’s baldequin over the altar is, for example, 90 feet tall. The letters you see around the top of the columns are six feet tall.

Here is Michelangelo’s Piéta:

It’s always hard, looking at Michelangelo’s sculpture, to remember that it’s marble and not flesh and fabric.

The dome above the altar:

And back outside into the square:

The front of the Basilica:

They were setting up for some special event with the Pope addressing lots of people. No details beyond that.

We lunched at Piazza Navona, which has not one…

…but two fountains:

This is the Fountain of the Four Rivers, depicting the four longest rivers of the four continents (at least the ones known at the time).

For “America” we had the Rio de Plata in Argentina/Uruguay, with that fiercest of river life…

…the armadillo. Yeah, they got it wrong. In all kinds of ways.

After lunch we had some free time, and there was a “stationery” shop there that had the most phenomenal hand-made blank books. The LFW’s guidebook, though, listed other such shops, so I walked out without buying anything. This was a mistake, because the other shops were pathetic, and we never returned to that first shop.

From the Piazza Navona, we headed to the Pantheon.

People, if I had to pick only one thing to see in Rome, it would be the Pantheon.

It is so beautiful, so stunningly proportioned and so perfectly executed, that you will be overawed when you enter, if not brought to tears by its perfection. The dome is a perfect hemisphere; the base is a perfect cube which would hold the bottom of the sphere.

It was built by the Emperor Hadrian in 126 AD to house All The Gods. Whoever you worshiped, you were welcome to worship him/her/them/it at the Pantheon.

The Pantheon is the only fully extant Roman building, and for centuries it was the largest dome in the world. It’s still huge.

The coffers in the ceiling are structural, helping sustain the weight, and the oculus at the top is open to the sky and always has been. Usually rain is blown back out of the oculus by air currents, but if it does make it to the floor, it is quickly drained away to the sewers:

The oculus has another secret: the sun at noon traverses the architrave throughout the year, and originally the architrave held the signs of the zodiac, signaling the turning of the seasons and times of the major festivals. (The Christians removed all the pagan symbology, and the Pantheon itself was saved from destruction only because Pope Boniface IV proclaimed it a church; there is an altar now across from the front door. Otherwise, it is as Hadrian built it.)

Speaking of Hadrian, here’s Hadrian’s Temple, built in honor of his mother Domitia Paulina, who was apparently a kick-ass politician and wise, supportive woman.

It now is the front of the Chamber of Commerce. Across the plaza was a bar which was touted on the intertubes as being “one of the best bars in the world,” but we never made it back to double-check that claim.

No visit to Rome would be complete without a visit to the Trevi Fountain, I suppose.

We made wishes: 1 coin for true love or an impossible wish; 2 coins for marriage; and 3 coins for an immediate divorce, such things being difficult in Roman Catholic Italy. I would have thought that qualified as an impossible wish, myself. My wish? To become a best-selling author.[2]

A hike to the Spanish Steps, then back to the hotel for a refreshing shower before heading back out. We roamed about a bit before snagging cocktails at a gin bar and supper at a cool little trattoria that apparently introduced the idea of dinner salads to the Eternal City.

SIDEBAR ABOUT THE BAR: It was called The Gin Corner, and it was listed as one of the top bars in Rome. We stumbled across it and dived inside to sample the wares.  I tried to play the “Smoky Topaz” game with the owner/bartender, but either I didn’t make myself clear or he’s just obtuse; he just made the Smoky Topaz.  Without measuring.

Back to the hotel and our view of St. Peter’s.

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[1] AND WHILE YOU’RE AT IT, TURN OFF THE SHUTTER CLICK NOISE, TOO.

[2] Buy my book.