Museums in Rome, because that's what Tourists do, right?
29.06.2013 26 °C
I woke up around 12:40. Figuring it was about as close to the middle of the night as it got without
deliberate effort, I decided to check the state of the sky. The sun had set, but the sky was still dark blue. If I’d tried, I might have been able to count three stars. Instead, I made sure the blinds were closed tighter and went back to sleep.
I woke up again later to eat breakfast in the hotel and, more importantly, catch a flight to Itayl. The Helsinki airport was shockingly crowded, with a line stretching to cover most of pre-security space. I don’t know what they were standing in line for, since we managed to drop off our bags (Even better: we managed to drop off our bags in a way that they went to Italy with us, not a way that they were confiscated by TSA) and go through security without standing in it.
This flight was about three hours. Finnair never tried to replace the map of where we were and statistics on altitude, temperature, speed, etc. with a movie, so I could spend the whole time just staring at the screen. I didn’t, but I could have.
The train to Rome was pretty, passing through a lot of fields and flowers. They kept making announcements only in Italian, so I really hope they weren’t important announcements. They did tell us when we arrived at the station, and that electronic cigarettes were strictly prohibited on the plane. The latter didn’t make any sense until I got to Rome and saw several different signs advertising electronic cigarettes. I’m still not clear what they are, but at least I know why the trains needed to warn against them.
We arrived at the apartment and got to set down luggage. I got a key that felt like it was preparing me for lockpicking. I need to kind of jiggle it to find the right spot, and then turn it till I hear a click. And if I believe the movies and TV shows I’ve seen, that’s basically all there is to lockpicking. Given all the difficulties I had with a real key, I hope there’s never a reason that I need to pick a lock.
Once I finally succeeded in locking the door, I started exploring Rome. As I was aimlessly walking, I noticed a sign for Macro, “Museum d’arte contemporana roma.” I have relative faith in the statement that when people think of art in Rome, they don’t think of modern art. Intrigued, I decided to go in.
When I walked down the entry hallway, it was just me and a person sitting at a desk. Later on, someone else came out of one of the doors on the side. That door locked behind him, to our disappointment and surprise. I wanted to get to the cafe and/or gallery that a sign was pointing me towards, and I wondered how he’d gotten in there in the first place.
Well, if I couldn’t open doors, I could still go down the flight of stairs in front of me. I did, looked in a bookstore (most of the books were in Italian, confirming my idea that the museum wasn’t trying to cater to American tourists) walked around a giant sculpture, and took a different flight of stairs up. I stepped out in front of the cafe.
It was pleasant. The waiter listened patiently to my attempts to read the Italian on the menu and addressed me in English from that point onward. The food and coffee were tasty, and almost every wall on the museum was either art or windows. The art was modern, but the views from the windows were pretty.
Leaving the cafe, I walked around the sculpture again, this time from the top. The sculpture was big, orange, and ugly, no matter what angle you looked at it from. Even from the very top, where there were built in benches to sit. The stained glass ceiling was kind of pretty, provided you only looked at the way the sunlight fell through it and onto something not orange.
At that point, I realized I really didn’t care about any galleries and went out the way I came in, trying not to get too disoriented. (I entered on ground floor. I went down a flight of stairs. There was an exit from there. I went up a flight of stairs to get to the cafe. I was looking out over the tops of trees. The two stairs felt like they were roughly the same size. It’s not that I get lost inside buildings often, it was a confusing building.) And then I went back to walking around Rome.
Because my last experience with a museum went so well, the next time I saw a museum, I decided to go into that one too. It was called “Museo Boncompagni Ludovisi- per le arti decorative costume e moda del XIX e XX Secolo.” Taking the closest French word to each of those, I roughly translate it as “for the decorative arts clothing and (something) from the XIX and XX centuries.
The only thing in English gives the hours that it’s open (which conveniently include the time I’m there) and the price of admission (free.) So I go in. Too far in- I accidentally walk onto private property, but the museum (guide? Curator? Person?) gets my attention. It soon becomes obvious that he speaks as much English as I speak Italian. And, lest I still have had any doubts that this was a must-see museum for all American tourists, in the visitor book the museum man has me sign, almost every other visitor’s nationality is listed as Italian.
The man went through and unlocked each room just for me, so I take my time looking at all the objects. The floors on the rooms are creaky, and the walls and ceilings have an old style. Not Roman ruins old, but the rooms seem like they could double as Victorian drawing rooms with a change of decoration. The main displays are pottery and clothing. So in one room, there’s a collection of ceramics c. 1900 that look like they could be older. The next room contains dresses from the 1970s. A third room contains a painting of Gregory 13, (the namesake of this museum) a wooden desk that would fit comfortably in the preserved houses of famous figures I’ve toured, a television, and a display case featuring shoes and jewelry similar to the kinds I could buy in a decently-sized department store.
That museum is Rome in a nutshell. It’s a modern city with remnants of history everywhere. The Aurelian Walls, built in the 3rd century, run right next to a major road. To compete with this antiquity, everything else needs to act older than it is to get attention. Victor Emmanuel II’s 1870 capture of Rome is commemorated by a worn statue with Roman numerals and Us that look like Vs. The Empire Palace Hotel, opened in 1999, gets its own plaque, like it’s a historical monument.
Rome is a strange city. There’s no question about it being a modern city, but it has enough ruins and old buildings to make cities like Chicago or London weep or glare in envy. (“You wanted lasting monuments? Guess you shouldn’t have been made out of wood!”) And that has an impact on a city. I know that it’s a large, modern city. Somehow, though, it doesn’t quite feel like one.