Journal of Italy Tour
Evansville Philharmonic Chorus
June 1st through 9th, 2002
By David Scott Coker
In the early months of 2001, the leadership of the Evansville Philharmonic Chorus proposed a nine-day tour for chorus members, spouses and friends to Italy. The tour package was being offered at a relatively modest cost to chorus members and was similar to several others that had been taken by chorus participant in previous years. Reservations and payments for the tour were made in installments during several months throughout 2001 so more of us could afford to pay for the tour.
At the time I was quite skeptical of my ability to afford the tour but was eventually able to pull together the money for the installment payments for the tour.
During October, 2001, I met Janene Greene, who at the time was working as an assessment field case worker for Dulous Ministries which administers the Healthy Families program in Princeton, Indiana. We proceeded to fall in love and became quite close.
As the date of the tour approached, it was with deep regret that I left Evansville the first week of June, 2002 and was unable to have Janene accompany me on the tour. A couple of weeks prior to the trip, she purchased a small white hard-bound journal book and gave it to me. It is inscribed, "To my love, Always in my heart. Have a wonderful trip to Italy, Janene."
This journal, therefore, is dedicated to Janene Rose Enochs Greene, with all my special love, whose life has brought new meaning to mine and touched my life indelibly.
* * *
June 1, 2002, Louisville Airport, 1:28 p.m.
It is now 2:00 p.m. and we are awaiting departure for Detroit in about 45 minutes. On the bus ride over here I chatted with Darla Olberdink, a retired school teacher who taught David Eissler when he was a student at North High School. Everyone on the bus and here in the airport are simply giddy -- like a bunch of little children.
On the way over here we were treated to some orientation remarks from Al and Kitty Salvia, Dan Scavone, a retired professor at U.S.I. who possesses vast knowledge of Italian history, and Chorus President Phil Fassett who was responsible for putting together much of the tour with the Intropa people who made many of the arrangements.
Upon arriving at the Northwest ticket counter we stood in line for almost 45 minutes waiting for a couple with restless children clear the ticketing counter. There were apparently problems with their reservations which required keeping what looked to be several hundred people in line waiting. Finally, another agent directed us to go around the counter to move forward in the process toward the first of many security checkpoints.
I was randomly selected by the authorities to have my bag searched. The Sky Marshals with their badges gleaming were very courteous about the whole ordeal but it was a bit invasive and somewhat of a nuisance. I suppose I should not feel too bad, Al and Kitty had their baggage searched as well and Kitty is carrying her violin!
Our first segment goes to Detroit via DC-9 and then we transfer to a big Northwest DC-10 for the trans-oceanic portion of our excursion.
June 1, 2002, Detroit International Airport, 4:43 p.m.
Relatively uneventful flight although getting to the plane proved to be a bit of a chore. My checked baggage was searched at the counter and then after I passed through the metal detector and my carry-on bag was X-rayed, my bag was physically opened and searched after I was assigned a boarding pass for my segment to Rome. Again, Alfred and Kitty went through the same ordeal so I did not feel too badly. Upon boarding the plane I asked Alfred "How does one say ‘slow boil' in Italian?"
I am starting to get very tired as I did not sleep on the first leg of this journey. I spent much of the time looking out the window at the beautiful green and brown expanses of planted row crops and tiny rural villages throughout Northern Indiana. Our plane leaves at 5:25 p.m. -- this leg we will get a meal and drinks but we will not be able to move much for over 8 hours. It is a DC-10, don't guess the seats will be any bigger than the DC-9 we just left.
June 2, 2002, 3:15 a.m. Rome time
Somewhere over the North Atlantic
We just ate our on-board meal and the food was great! Some of the best airline food I have ever eaten -- everything was hot and fresh. I ate chicken, new potatoes in a sauce and green beans, garden salad, cheese and crackers, several hot rolls and apple cake for dessert. James Gish, my seatmate, ate a pasta concoction that looked pretty good.
The aircraft cabin has a big screen at the front that has a moving map on it showing flight progress of the plane over a colored globe. This is interspersed with charts which show the current speed, altitude, distance traveled and time remaining in the flight. We are presently over St. John's Island in the Atlantic, just East of Nova Scotia. The screen says we are traveling at 621 mph ground speed at over 41,000 feet and are approximately 2,974 miles from Rome -- still over six hours away. When we started in Detroit it was something like a 7,800 mile journey.
It has been dark for over two hours. Earlier, during and just after dinner the plane was one huge party! But it has calmed down quite a bit as we are starting to experience some turbulence.
This seems like a fairly stable airframe despite all the buffeting about in all of this chop. I am very tired but cannot sleep due to the roar of the engines. I reset my wristwatch several hours ago for Rome time.
Everybody is having one hell of a lot of fun.
In route to downtown Rome
June 2, 2002, 12:00 p.m. noon
About an hour ago we arrived at the Hotel Villa San Guisto on the Via Del Podere Di San Giusto. This is located northwest of central Rome near what amounts to their beltway. It is clean, the water is OK to drink and the room does have towels and wash cloths contrary to what the Intropa people told us during our orientation sessions. I went upstairs to my room, # 305, on the second floor. It was a reasonable sized room with two single beds and a desk. The shower works well but it does leak all over the floor. I took a shower and changed clothes for the coming day.
I discovered that a pen had leaked in the corner of the pocket of my new shirt -- I have it soaking in the sink. We are taking the bus as I write this to go downtown to a fashionable district near what is called the Spanish Steps. Years ago, apparently many British and American expatriate literary figures gravitated to this region of Rome during the 1800s. I was later to learn that many famous writers from various European countries lived in this region for a time during their lives.
Rome, In route to Hotel, June 2, 2002, 5:20 p.m.
Our entire group that flew in from Louisville (another group is flying in from St. Louis laterthis evening) took the tour bus from the hotel to the Cornelia subway stop and was told by the tour guides that our off-loading point was a taxi cab stand. Later, we were to learn that since this was Sunday, cabs in this part of the city were few and far between.
We were all supposed to take the subway to the Flamino subway exit, however, Mary Sowders, her brother Steven Eckman, Sharon Waltrip and I got separated from the rest of the group by getting on the platform for trains going in the wrong direction. At the next stop we transferred to the correct train, and soon caught up with the rest in our group on the way to the Piazza del Popolo, several blocks North of some of the main historical attractions of downtown Rome.
They were huddled around one of over a dozen Egyptian obelisks one finds around the city. These ancient monuments were looted from the African cradle of civilization during the first century B.C. and transported by galleys over the 2,000-mile journey to decorate the many piazzas located all over the ancient "City of Light. This particular obelisk was taken from Heliopolis in lower Egypt during the reign of Caesar Augustus, about the time of the birth of Christ.
The Heliopolis Obelisk on the Piazza Popolo
Enormous in stature and usually adorned with cast bronze crosses at the very top -- the decorative additions seem a bit out of place juxtaposed against the more ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic carvings on the faces of the enormous carved monument.
Looking toward the southern edge of this large piazza, I snapped a picture of the almost identical domes of Santa Maria di Miracola and Santa Maria di Montesanto, two churches which flank the Via del Corso at the end of the piazza.
Santa Maria dei Miracola and Santa Maria di Montesanto
The "Twin Churches"
Instead of proceeding directly to the Spanish Steps, the four of us walked straight down the Via del Corso, a street which is primary an upscale shopping area flanked by dark little side streets with sidewalk cafes and the entrances to dark Trattorias. There are numerous historical churches along this street which joins the northern aspect of the Piazza Venezia.
I remember looking up on the side of one of the buildings we passed and discovered an unlikely symbolic reference to an interesting period of Italian history -- the double-headed eagle symbolic of the Hapsburg dynasty.
Medieval history teaches us that at one point during the 1300s for a time the Papacy was moved to the south of France at Avignon. Italy was a war-torn mess with wealthy families paying for standing armies. Henry of Luxemburg was destined to become the new Holy Roman Emperor and ruler of all of Italy.
Henry became quite popular in certain circles and was supported by no less a passionate loyalists as Dante Algeheri who attempted to argue his case to many princes and political leaders at the time.
Henry not only received the Lombard crown (northern Italy) at Milan but also the Italian imperial crown in Rome. Soon, turning his eye toward the King of Naples the king contemplated a campaign towards the southern capital to unify all of Italy. But it simply was not to be. Henry died in Siena in 1313 attempting to raise an army.
It's hard to imagine that this very brief footnote of Italian history can still be symbolically memorialized on the side of a building in downtown Rome -- but there you are!
Diverting our walk for a moment, I stopped to take a picture of an ancient, dark gray row of columns that were pock marked, looking rather like they had once been the sight of a vicious machine gun battle.
Columns from the Temple of Hadrian
This structure, just to the left of the street we were on I later learned was the Temple of Hadrian on the Piazza de Petra.
As the steep elevation of the street leveled out, we passed through the Piazza Venezia in front of the Victor Emanuel Memorial and proceeded around the right hand side of the monument. We were now approaching the ancient portion of the city. We passed the Piazza de Campedoglio on one of the prominent seven hills of Rome, and finally arrived at Santa Maria in Cosmedin, an ancient church originally built in the 6th century but destroyed and rebuilt several times.
This place houses the Bocca della Verita – the "Mouth of Truth" sculpture in the entrance foyer of the building (Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn filmed a scene in Roman Holiday at this location).
The intrepid tourist gagging the Bocca della Verita
There is an ancient story extending from medieval times -- apparently a priest kept a scorpion in the mouth of the carved structure to sting the hands of anyone caught lying. Other legends have it that money offerings were placed inside the mouth of this enormous carved stone disc to support the church.
We stopped short of actually entering the ancient Forum area further south but we could see where it was from the front of this little church. We decided to proceed back the way we came. I noticed on the other side of the street that scaffolding had been erected and there was some restoration work being performed on the front of an enormous building.
Walking back up the hill toward the taxi stand at the Cornelia station, we passed the Victor Emmanuel II Memorial, a monumental structure dedicated to the man responsible for first unifying all of Italy in 1860s. This monument covers most of the Campagdolio, formerly one of the most sacred spots in all of ancient Rome.
Memorial to Vittorio Emmanuel II
We stopped for a drink in the shaded park across the street. Steve said that we would be returning to these streets as a portion of our guided tour of Rome within the next two days.
Proceeding North along approximately the same route we took into the city, it was a very long walk to the subway stop which took us back to the taxi stand from whence we came. We began seeing several taxis zooming past us on their way back to the hotel. It was a little hard to find an empty cab as this was Sunday afternoon and due to a patriotic parade commemorating the Italian liberation from the Nazis in World War II earlier in the day, those that were available were quickly called for by waiting passengers. We finally found one which cost us 9.75 Euros for the return trip.
When we arrived back at the hotel, we learned that another group comprised of Darla Olberding, June Taylor, Mike and Elaine Musgrave had a strange and somewhat unnerving comeuppance -- when they showed the cab driver the address of the hotel in which we were staying, he politely told them to get out of the cab as he did not know where the hotel was located! He assured them they would soon find another, more knowledgeable driver which they did.
We ate a hearty dinner of baked chicken, braised potatoes, pasta and flan for dessert. The wine flowed freely and many in our party celebrated our first night in country.
June 2, 2002, Rome, Hotel Villa de San Guista, 7:55 a.m.
Woke up at 6:45 with no wake up call. Late last night I learned that all of the channels on the television in this hotel were in Italian and had trouble getting the television to turn on and off.
I had a little trouble getting to sleep last night as the crew downstairs were quite loud and I could hear them through the balcony door in my room (the veranda of the hotel was right below my balcony).
Later, there was a hotel room occupant directly below me who snored very loudly with the television on all night long. The walls and floors of this building are quite substandard compared with American building construction -- there is apparently no insulation between floors and/or walls of this building as would have been required by U. S. building codes.
We have a full day of sight seeing planned for today, including visits to the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel.
June 2, 2002, Rome, Hotel Villa de San Guista, 10:35 p.m.
My legs are so sore from walking so many miles and climbing so many steps -- I hope I can stay awake to finish this journal entry.
The day began with a long, circuitous bus ride through intense city traffic -- all the notorious stories one hears about the frenetic nature of traffic in Rome are absolutely correct. At times it reminds me of traffic in Washington, D. C. although there is a greater diversity of vehicles negotiating the tiny streets here. Buses, trucks, small cars of every nationality except the U.S., the new "SMART" cars which are not available in the U.S. (seems they might be popular with college students), motorcycles, and two-cycle scooters of every size and description are darting everywhere, in and out of lanes regardless of the oncoming hazards. It is a miracle there are not more traffic fatalities but the average Italian motorist seems rather oblivious to it all; most are mainly preoccupied with his or her destination and the next tiny space into which to shoehorn their vehicle.
We entered the ancient Vatican wall through the Porta Portese, an arched portal on the southeastern aspect of this 108 acre state -- the smallest independent nation on earth. The bricks in this wall were apparently laid by the Romans almost two thousand years ago. The bus dropped us off and it was a brief walk through a shopping district before we found our first attraction, Trevi Fountain in a piazza with the same name.
It is located in a small, public opening in the crowded business district. Hemmed in by boutiques, antique stores, cafes and crowded by throngs of nicely-dressed Italians rushing to get to work on time, the fountain is not operating and currently drained of water to remove the coins. Regardless, I tossed a few small coins in for good luck and with the hope of returning to this place again one day.
We were given a few minutes to get a cup of coffee or do some very quick shopping before we were to move on to our first major building attraction, the Pantheon, the oldest standing domed structure in Rome.
This was one of the ancient buildings I was most looking forward to seeing. An older temple was originally built on this sight by Agrippa in 27 B.C. but what we now see was rebuilt in modified Corinthian style by edict of the Roman Emperor Hadrian during his reign from 117 until 138 A.D. Originally a vaulted-roofed temple dedicated to all of the Roman gods and goddesses (hence the name Pan-theon, to all of the Gods), this building is 142 feet tall and 142 feet across --
a perfect sphere inside a cylinder. It has a relatively small, 18-foot oculus at the apex of the dome which allows a circle of light to shine down upon the interior walls and marble floor of the structure. It is said you can tell time from the position of the light circle inside this enormous domed expanse.
About 125 years ago it was discovered that Raphael's tomb was discovered here (some admirers of his work still bring flowers) as are those of King Victor Emmanuel II and his immediate successor, Umberto I.
In the year 610 A.D. this edifice was consecrated as a Roman Catholic Church (what major building wasn't?) and has since been called the Santa Maria della Rotunda. But my preference would be to still think of it as an ancient Roman temple in spite of all the statues of apostles within the alcoves above us.
After a brief walk-through, we were directed by our guides to the Campo de' Fiore, a huge open public square surrounded by bars, restaurants, clothing stores and other buildings. In the center of this square there is a huge carved fountain with an enormous Egyptian obelisk in the center of it. -- I took a picture.
Obelisk fountain in front of the Pantheon
In a few minutes I saw Kitty Savia along with Liz Mumford, Lynn Carrie and Deb Ballard sitting on a bench eating gelatoes they had just bought at a nearby café. I had to have a picture of them as well.
Gelato -- Breakfast of Champions!
From this point we proceeded North to a long street leading up to a bridge across the Tiber River, the Ponte Saint Angelo. At the very end of this beautiful bridge adorned with numerous carved statues (a dance taking place on some barges docked beneath this bridge were used by Billy Wilder to film a memorable escape scene in the movie Roman Holiday) stands a huge drum-shaped building with crenellated towers called the Castel Saint Angelo.
The Castel di Saint Angelo from the other side of the bridge across the Tiber River
This huge structure was originally a memorial tomb also built by Hadrian for himself when he was still alive. We were later to learn that many of the structures both in this part of Rome as well as in the Forum area South of our current position were the work of this most prolific Roman emperor. He apparently traveled all over the Roman empire building bridges, roads and all sorts of monumental structures, including El Djem, a 45,000 seat amphitheater in Tunisia, a enormous temple to Zeus in Athens and a Roman spa in Bath, England. "Hadrian's wall," built in 122 A.D., is an enormous 74-mile long fortified structure which extends from coast to coast near the present Scottish-English border through the hilly country of Northumberland. To thwart the advances of the barbaric Celt and Pict tribes of the northern reaches of the peninsula, the wall was built in less than three years by three Roman legions of some 5,000 men. It is frequently compared to the Great Wall of China which was built much later.
The more I learn about him the more I think he would have been fun to hang out with for a while -- that is if you could get beyond his relationship with Antonious, his young lover for several years of his life.
Alfred told us that this famous round structure is the building from which the title character Tosca in the opera by Giacomo Puccini plunged from the top to her death at the end of Act Three. It is hard to imagine anyone ever surviving a fall from that height. The building looks much more like an ancient Roman fortress than a modern-day Catholic church.
To our immediate left from this position between the bridge and the medieval towers, a little over a mile away we could see the enormous dome of Saint Peter's Basilica towering over all the other buildings of the Vatican complex. I snapped a quick picture showing the Tiber river in the foreground with St. Peter's on the horizon.
St. Peters from the railing of the Ponte Saint Angelo. Hadrian's Tomb is on the far right.
We would soon be walking up that way but first there was a short break for lunch.
We ate at a little cafeteria-style restaurant on two levels on the Via Christens, a large street with many art galleries, restaurants and more fashion shops. I had turkey slices, fresh tomatoes, eggplant maranara, spinach and fresh bread. Earlier in the day during a break in the guided tour I ate my first gelato, a very smooth, rich, creamy ice cream treat unique to Italy. It is very high in butter fat and quite yummy.
After lunch I bought a plastic folding map of Rome and we proceeded up the same street to the entrance of the Vatican museum on the far north side of the building complex surrounding Saint Peter's.
Bernini's Colonnade, designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini and built from 1656 until 1667
One must enter the museum on this side to gain access to the Sistine Chapel. We were given tickets by the tour operators, and proceeded to a small courtyard surrounded by figure statues on pedestals near an adjacent wall adjoining this small enclosed green space. The tour guide talked us through the history of Bramante's Belvedere Corridor which opens onto the Niccione della Pigna (large niche of the Pine Cone) which surrounds a huge bronze carving which was
The Pine Cone and Peacock Fountain of Bramante's Belvedere Corridor
originally part of an ancient Roman fountain from the first or second century A.D. On either side are copies of two bronze peacocks which date from the time of Hadrian -- the originals are in the Braccio Nuovo gallery which we did not visit.
In the center of this statuary park is an enormous, shiny modern globe with a huge gash carved into the side conceived by Italian sculptor Arnoldo Pomoder in 1990.
Another view of the Belvedere Corridor
Karen Yancey remarked that this looked like a bronze facsimile of the partially destroyed Death Star space ship from the original Star Wars trilogy. I have to agree that it looks oddly out of place amidst all the antiquities surrounding the outer walkways of this courtyard.
We re-entered the building complex and were given instructions from a Vatican employee on viewing the Sistine Chapel. I bought a beautifully illustrated book about the Vatican City from a vendor located just outside the next stop in our journey.
We proceeded down the long corridor called the Gallery of Maps, an indoor walkway with many windows between the Tower of Winds and another building leading to the entrance to the Sistine Chapel. The gallery of the even larger Vatican library has a very open feeling with lots of light inside showing to good affect the intricate frescoes, statues, amphora on pedestals, marble floors and mosaics which adorn the walls between the maps. In all there are some 40 maps reproduced from cartoons by the astronomer Ignazio Danti. The intricate stucco and fresco decorations on the ceiling of this long hallway were executed in 1583 by a group of artists working under the direction of Cesare Nebbia and Girolamo Musiano.
Alfred directed our attention to one of the hand-painted maps and showed us the small island where some of his relatives live. These were apparently some of the most detailed maps in the entire civilized world during the late-1500s and clerics and monks from distant lands would frequently make pilgrimages to Rome to copy the maps in this gallery for use by the residents of their home monasteries.
Upon entering Cappella Sistina, this modest-sized, dimly-lit chapel, I was overwhelmed with emotion. Tears poured from my eyes as I looked at Michelangelo's masterpiece. Not only did he paint the vaulted ceiling, but also all of the corbels and lunettes which flank the massive panels in the center. After finishing this portion of the room, the master was yet again commissioned by Pope Julius II to complete the work by painting the vertical surface behind the alter in similar style -- the massive Last Judgement of Mankind fresco containing over 400 human figures in all. The entire work took over four years to complete from May, 1508 until November,1512.
While it is a relatively small holy space compared with others I have seen, the vaulted ceiling soars to over 60 feet above the marble floor -- an even greater tribute to the scaffolding skills of the master craftsman.
A controversial restoration of this room was performed in 1980 when some serious problems were identified with the glue which had been systematically applied to the surface of the frescoes over the centuries. The glue, made out of animal proteins, had darkened with age.
Also, the lamp black and candle soot from years of use had deposited on the surfaces over the hundreds of years. They also used the glue to hide numerous deposits of salt efflorescence produced from the infiltration of rain water that evaporated on the plaster surfaces over the centuries.
All of this old glue was removed using a weak solution of ammonia bicarbonate, followed by sodium bicarbonate and several other chemicals the colors were painstakingly reapplied to mimic the artists true brush strokes.
The colors today are very bright and true -- aptly preserved for even more swarming tourists during the next 400 years!
As I told several people before I left, I took along my silly little paint hat that I used to wear when I restored houses back in D.C. many years ago -- having painted a few restored ceilings in my time, I felt I owed the old master at least that much! Then, before we went inside the chapel, we were told to remove all head coverings -- so I carried it with me into the chapel.
After leaving the chapel and proceeding down a narrow staircase to some public restrooms, we proceeded as a group to the main event on the menu of Vatican properties, Basilica de San Pietro --
Basilica di San Pietro
Saint Peter's Cathedral.
While everything about this building is enormous and magnificent -- the 400-foot dome designed by Michelangelo, the tiny brass votive candle holders, the six-foot tall letters in blue mosaic surrounded by gold which proclaims "Thou Art Peter and Upon This Rock I Will Build My Church" around the inner base of the dome and the sculpture of the Pieta (carved by Michelangelo from 1498 to 1500 from a single block of Carrara marble) just inside the soaring bronze doors -- I was not so emotionally overwhelmed as I was by the incredible beauty of the frescoes in the Sistine Chapel. The smaller chapel excels in color on flat and curved surfaces to impose an awesome impression of the majesty of God and his kingdom. The same affect is attempted in three dimensions within the Grand Nave of the cathedral. In the middle of all this artistic opulence, the bronze Baldachin with the ornate, gilded corkscrew pillars was completed in 1633 by the famous sculptor Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini under commission from Pope Urban VIII.
It flanks the sacred alter upon which are sanctified the communion bread and wine -- a solid block of white marble consecrated by Clement VIII in 1594, it came from Nerva's Forum in the ancient portion of the city. The affect can be viewed as a bit ponderous and almost overwhelming. How does one pray in this place? There are so many distractions!
I walked around and looked at every altar, mosaic, carved statue and chapel in an attempt to make a visual memory somewhere in my brain of the entire edifice. I soon discovered that it was impossible -- there was simply too much to see and digest in the short time we had to walk through this enormous holy space.
After quickly touring the lower portion of the Nave, Alfred took a small group of us up the elevator and some 304 steps (Teresa Cheung counted them) to the cupola on top of the 400-foot dome. From this vantage point I took a series of panoramic pictures all the way around city and will hopefully have most of Rome on film.
Three views from the top of the dome at Saint Peter's Cathedral
Alfred attempted to point out to Teresa all of the various stands of pine trees which inspired Ottorini Respighi when he composed "The Pines of Rome."
Climbing up to the top of this place was a feat of considerable physical endurance, but all the while Richard Sidener, one of the older basses in our chorus, stayed with us all the way to the top and back down again. I trust there are others who are much younger who might not make it all the way to the top of this building.
Since we had all been to the top of the building, it was agreed that we would quickly go to the lower level of the cathedral and see the crypt in which the apostle Peter's remains are buried.
Although the entire building can be viewed as an architectural memorial to Peter, the Nicchia dei Pallii is the actual memorial to the first father of the church. It is a small, arched, inset alcove carved into a lower wall.
The Crypt of Saint Peter beneath the alter of the Cathedral
It contains a 9th century mosaic of Christ and a small casket in which are stored the white, woolen stoles which are worn by new metropolitan archbishops as soon as they are consecrated.
Next to Peter's tomb, both in the Vatican grottoes and above in the Basilica itself, are interred the remains of 147 popes including all those who have reigned in this century.
One would have thought that after a sensory double whammy of this magnitude (back to back Sistine Chapel and Saint Peter's) would be enough for one day -- but a small group of us followed Alfred on to yet another walking adventure of which I will write more in my next installment.
June 4, 2002 Rome, leaving Villa San Giusto, 8:00 a.m.
We are leaving this terrible hotel -- I am very pleased to be getting away from here! The walls are paper thin and again I could hear snoring and a television left on all night. I got a total of about two hours sleep and I am exhausted.
The trek with Alfred yesterday was interesting but very tiring. He has a late-in-the-day energy level that is admirable. Those who had just left the front entrances of Saint Peter's assembled outside on the square. A few of us took a drink of the pure water flowing out of a fountain located near the obelisk. It was crystal clear and very cool. We were told that this water proceeds from the nearby mountains through one of the ancient Roman aqueducts that still provides water to the city.
After our brief rest period we ventured out for a subway ride up to the Church of Santa Maria Concezione Imacolata located on the Via Veneto. This is a rather odd place to be going to so much trouble to see. In the ante-rooms of this church off of a long, rather dark corridor, there were small rooms decorated with various constructions made out of the bones of the deceased Campochin monks. In one of the displays, in the back was a figure of the Grim Reaper himself -- a large cycle in one hand, the scales of justice held in the other -- all fashioned out the ribs, leg and arm bones of Lord knows how many dead monks over the ages.
Around the edges of some of the displays you can see where vandals have stolen some of the bones -- the empty nails remain which show the outlines of where the pilfered bones were originally located. This place was macabre -- kind of grotesque actually. All the skulls stacked up on top of one another reminded me of scenes from the Cambodian massacres which took place shortly after the Viet Nam war.
Soon we were able to proceed to a much more appealing place -- the Piazza Barbarini where one finds the Fountain of Triton, another beautiful creation of the gifted Bernini -- the man whose greatest contribution to the Vatican were the two arched, semi-elliptical colonnades which flank Saint Peter's Square where we had rested just a few minutes ago. The 140 statues of the saints which adorn the roofs of the colonnades were carved by several of Bernini's assistants.
Triton is a mythological figure -- half man and half fish. Alfred told us that this was one of the fountains which inspired Respighi when he wrote "The Fountains of Rome" in the early years of the last century. We rested by this beautiful fountain for a few minutes and then proceeded over to the Scalinata di Spagna, the Spanish Steps.
Proceeding up what is known as the Pincian Hill (one of the highest elevations in the city), this beautiful stairway was built between 1721 and 1725 by Allesandro De Santis and Francisco Specchi. The place takes its name from the Spanish Embassy which used to be located here. Together with the twin bell towers of the Church of the Trinita dei Monti (one of the most familiar scenes in of all of Rome, the clock in the left tower still keeps accurate time) and the lower piazza and fountain create a very pleasant masterpiece of baroque urban architecture.
Ironically the church which is so closely associated with the steps below, was originally underwritten by the French crown of Charles VIII in 1495. The church was destroyed during the French Revolution and then rebuilt by Louis XVIII of France in 1816. For many years this region became the residence and gathering place of many expatriate writer and romantics from other
The festive and colorful Spanish Steps
countries -- such famous literary figures as Stendahl, Goethe, Lord Byron, Shelley and Keats all lived in this area at one time or another. When Charles Dickens visited Rome, he reported that the Spanish Steps "were the meeting place for artists' models, who would dress in colorful costumes, hoping to catch the eye of a wealthy artist," -- must have been a rather heady place at the time!
Many years later under much darker circumstances, a poignant story about this area is recorded in one of my Time-Life books about the Italian campaign during World War II. At 9:00 p.m on June 4, 1944 a young woman named Vera Signorelli Cacciatore witnessed the last of the German troops that had occupied Rome evacuating the town in a great hurry. The moon was full and the evening was quite warm. Suddenly a Jeep full of American G.I.s drove up and one soldier shot some windows out of the house next door to announce their arrival to any potential Germans lingering in the area. For about a half an hour all was quiet, when suddenly someone said "The Americans are coming!" Soon, the Spanish Steps and the piazza below was filled with war-weary troops who marched into the city like robots.
When a column of the tired soldiers came to a halt, Italian civilians approached to embrace them and offer them water, food and wine. When they had their fill, they apparently collapsed on the cobblestones below. Mrs. Cacciatore wrote "they slept on the street, on the sidewalks, and on the Spanish Steps, some of them climbed into The Old Boat which had been empty since the aqueducts were bombed ( she was referring to the fountain called La Barcaccia at the foot of the Spanish Steps carved in the 1620s by Pietro Bernini, the father of the more famous Giovanni) . . . before, Rome had always smelled of cooking, wine, dried fish and garlic. Now suddenly it was Chesterfields," referring to the cigarettes being smoked by American G.I.s.
She went on to write about an American soldier named Leonard Rosenburg who was detailed to guard the house where she was staying -- it was the Keats-Shelley house. John Keats died there in 1821. The house, apparently a tourist attraction before the war, contained the manuscripts and relics of Shelley, Leigh Hunt, Lord Byron and other foreigners who lived in the area, along with about a 10,000 volume library. Rosenburg apparently asked to go up into the room where John Keats lived and while standing there in the dark Cacciatore saw tears coming from his eyes. "I never saw him or heard from him again," she wrote, "I hope he lived through the war."
At the top of the steps we encountered several street artists who sell their paintings to tourists at an observation point on the top of the steps. I stopped and took a picture of an attractive young a girl named Sissy who was selling her paintings -- she told me she was a singer in a nearby nightclub.
We walked down the steps and passed through the busy traffic on the street in front of the piazza. We proceeded down the Via con Dotti -- a very fashionable, up-scale shopping area -- and followed a circuitous route that only Alfred knew for sure (the rest of us were completely lost at this point). Teresa Cheung found a purse she really liked -- I went inside to inquire about the price and the clerk showed me a tiny label in the window -- only 650 Euro!
After walking a long, circuitous route (only Alfred knew for sure where we were going, the rest of us were completely lost) we ended up at a beautiful baroque church, San Andrea della Vale Bascillo. Alfred said this was the church depicted in the first act of Puccini's opera Tosca. We all stopped for a moment to take pictures.
San Adrea della Vale Bascillo
From here, we walked back to the Campo di Fiore just a few blocks away. By this time it was filled with people cooling their heels from the busy day just passed or eating dinner in one of the numerous restaurants located around here. We grabbed a drink at a bar with an American theme and was waited on by a beautiful young Irish girl who said she was an art history student.
A short walk away from this sidewalk café, we had a traditional Roman dinner (17 of us) in the back room of a restaurant called Osteria a Galletto. Dinner included purscuitto ham, eggplant vinaigrette (very popular here), mozzarella cheese balls, hard crust bead, thiy bread sticks, linguini topped with sautéed portabella mushrooms, and a main course of veal shanks and potatoes.
The proprietor of the restaurant was quite a showman. During the meal Pam Doerter accidentally spilled something on her blouse. Before we knew it, the elderly restaurateur was over at the table beside her sprinkling powder on her blouse. In a few minutes, as we were figuring out how much money each of us owed for the meal ($38 Euros), he returned with a clothes brush and began comically brushing the powder away from the top of her breast. The entire table howled with laughter -- and it was quite apparent that Pam was not the first patron to receive such special treatment!
After dinner we walked over to a nearby coffee shop, Sant' Eustachio, which Alfred claimed was "the best café in all of Rome." I bought a 500 gram bag of the rich, whole beans for mother and then went outside to look around. Soon, Jennifer Stevens, a friend of one of the chorus members, decided to hail a cab. She was apparently just as tired as I was. In spite of the protests of her friends, the two of us returned to the hotel.
June 5, 2002, Bolsena, by Lake Bolsena. Hotel Loriana, 9:18 a.m.
Wow! Where do I begin to tell the entire story of what happened yesterday! It seems as if each day of this trip becomes more memorable than the day before.
We packed our baggage into the bus for a swift departure from this dreadful hotel -- we will be spending this evening in another location. We took a beltway road around and entered the city from the southeast near the ancient Roman ruins. En route we saw some of the original aqueducts built by the ancient Romans up to the nearby mountains and saw lots of other small businesses along the way into the city. Again, I did not sleep well last night -- the combination of the snoring and the television set were a chronic irritant all night.
We met up with our guide Alexandro at the Veale Dello Donus Aurea, a park which sits on the former site of the Golden Palace of Roman Emperor Nero. Our guide began his talk with an historical discussion of this place, the beautiful Palatine hill which we could see on our left and the Colosseum a short distance away. He also talked about some of the powerful Roman rulers who had been associated with the ancient structures in this part of the city -- again, Hadrian figured prominently in his discussion!
The "Collusseo" as it is known in Italian, was built by Vespasiano in 72 A.D. upon what was once the bed of a private lake on the grounds of Nero's palatial estate. The lake was drained and this explains why there are several levels of the Colosseum below grade -- the structure was built on the excavated lake bed.
"Collusseo" site of the legendary Roman entertainments
In the year 1500 there were apparently numerous excavations around the site where archeologists found golden coins and other ancient artifacts from the Roman period.
Alexandro discussed the "grotesque style" of architecture and told us that there are three stories of eighty (80) arches around the inside of the ancient structure making it the largest amphitheater throughout the Roman Empire. The whole place was built of brick and covered over with white marble when it was used for the infamous games and Gladiator battles.
As we were walking from the sight, Dan Scavone made the observation that because the Colosseum was built after Nero, there is little evidence to suggest that many Christians were slaughtered within these walls despite the myths that have been passed down for centuries. He says he has a slide show which explores the details of this little-known fact.
We were told that there was a gigantic curtain that was pulled over the top of the entire structure. It routinely required the efforts of over 2,000 men (probably slaves) to erect. As many as 16 people would be pulling on each rope during this elaborate procedure. The total seating capacity of the Colosseum in ancient times was around 75,000, making it about the same size as many of the larger college and professional football stadiums here in the U.S. As it was configured in ancient times, the wealthy sat in the lower tiers near the floor of the structure while those less well off sat in the upper tiers (sounds very familiar!).. Alexandro told us that in the underground galleries those preparing the circuses would hold animals, gladiators, and other innocent victims who were unfortunate enough to be condemned to the fortunes of the games. They would include animals vs. animals, gladiators vs. animals and finally gladiators facing each other to the death as the final events of the daily card. He said that at one time the games when on for over 100 days consecutively -- an orgy or gore and bloodshed to appease the maddened Roman crowd. Such were the spoils of the incredible wealth generated by this enormous Mediterranean empire.
In around 1770, Pope Clement XIV issued an edict allowing Italian stonemasons to plunder the intricately carved marble facades and decorative appointments covering the walls throughout the Colosseum for use in cathedrals and churches elsewhere. Hence, all that remains is the brick substructure -- one can only imagine how beautiful this place would have been clad in glistening white and colored marbles which have been found elsewhere to decorative affect in other Roman excavations.
We spent about 25 minutes on our own taking pictures, visiting the gift shop, and wandering through the endless passageways in which one can get lost within this enormous structure. It is truly a remarkable feat of ancient Roman building techniques -- the arched passageways through the various levels were all uniformly constructed of brick with no keystones at the apex of the arches. Such incredible craftsmanship dedicated to such gruesome entertainment!
We reorganized ourselves into a group at the end of the Colosseum adjacent to the Roman Forum for our next portion of the walking tour.
June 5, 2002, On bus in route from Orvieto to Monticatini Terme, 1:15 p.m.
Throughout this part of the tour I got kind of separated from Alexandro but I do remember him pointing out what was left of the Temple of Saturn, the Arch of Septiminus Severus, the Arch of Titus, the emperor who sacked Jerusalem in 70 A.D. in response to the regional uprising of the Jews. The trophies of this emperor's conquests in the holy land such as the golden menorah and other sacred artifacts from the sacking of the Temple in Jerusalem are depicted in heavy bas relief carvings on the sides of this enormous structure. The Romans were apparently quite proud of their adventures of plunder.
The Arch of Constantine is the largest and closest to the Colosseum.
The Arch of Constantine
The Temple of Venus Genetrix is also there, inside the even larger Forum of Julius Caesar -- all that remains are three columns and a fragment of an enormous travertine entablature.. There are another three, lonely columns -- all that remain of the temple to Castor and Pollux, the Gemini children of Leda and the Swan, a masquerade which concealed Jupiter's true identity. The two mythological figures apparently joined the travels of the mythological Jason and the Argonautic expedition in their quest for the Golden Fleece.
We are presently on the bus traveling from Orvieto to Montecatini Terme the location of the Hotel San Marco, our resting place for the next couple of nights. We also have a performance tonight at the Hotel Astoria, another hotel located not far from where we will be staying. To resume our progress, after spending a thoroughly inadequate period of time to get a solid feel for where and what we were observing at the Forum, we proceeded up a large, recently paved thoroughfare which connects the area of the Colosseum with the Victor Emanuel II Memorial in the Piazza Venezia (I had been here on Sunday afternoon with Steve, Mary and Sharon). It seemed a bit warmer today than it had been the previous two days.
Kitty Savia told us that Mussolini had plundered some of the ancient ruins adjacent to the Forum in an effort to build the Via Dei Fori Imperiali -- the Street off the Imperial Forum -- which became the stage of many of the pompous parades and displays of military might for which " Il Duce" and his loyal Fascists became world famous in the 1930s.
One can get a glimpse of black and white footage of these events occasionally on the documentaries aired on the History Channel. It had been several of hours since we had left the buses on the other side of the Colosseum so many of us were needing to attend to the call of nature. Along this huge via we found what were perhaps the only, rather primitive public rest rooms in the area -- don't these people believe in Port-a-Johns? We were later to see several of the temporary structures near a construction site on the other side of the memorial, but that was not doing us any good at the moment.
As is usually the case, the men were finished with their business long before the women, so I volunteered to stand outside the door of the men's rest room and hold purses for all of the women in line for a period of almost 45 minutes.
After a little walk we were in front of the enormous white marble memorial dedicated in 1911 to the man first responsible for unifying Italy in the 1860s. It has variously been referred to as "The Wedding Cake" by the Italians, the "The Typewriter" by the British an something even less flattering by American visitors over the years. It appears rather stark and a bit out of place when compared with the other buildings in the area -- a Twentieth century facsimile of Roman Imperial style. I suppose that was the intention of Giuseppe Zanardelli, the prime minister of Italy in 1911. A native of Brescia, the memorial is not constructed of travertine the traditional building material of Rome, but rather a very white marble quarried in his home town.
While we were passing through this area, the chrome-plated barrels of the automatic weapons of several uniformed Carabinieri (a word I learned to spell from Luigi Barzini in his book The Italians -- they are one of two rival police forces throughout Italy which have existed for the past 150 years) caught my eye. There had been a military parade and air show the day we arrived to commemorate the Allies liberation of Italy in 1944, but this was the first time since we had left the airport that I actually saw any armed, uniformed personnel.
After walking a few more blocks we boarded our buses and took a Northeastern route out of Rome. The traffic remained quite heavy -- I marveled at so many makes of cars that I had never seen before. As I looked out the window I tried to gather my thoughts and pondered if or when I would ever return to the "Eternal City" of antiquity.
Our bus proceeded up route A1, a limited access toll road similar to an Interstate toward the region of Bolsena, Orvieto and Bagnoregio. Soon, we were to turn off of this major road onto a series of back country roads to the enchanting little town of Bolsena, nestled between several mountains on a huge lake of the same name.
Traveling these country roads, we could see enormous fields of grass dotted with little red poppies that grow wild, similar to the orange ditch lilies we have in southern Indiana. They can apparently be found in all over the mountainous portions of central Italy are, particularly the portion of rural Tuscany we have seen. But they can apparently be found elsewhere. In another part of the central Italy north of Naples, photographs I have in one of my war books at home depict tank crewmen resting among them alongside their tanks in a field south of Esperia in the vicinity of Monte Cassino southeast of Rome.
I was impressed to see impeccable gardens, grape arbors and olive trees with their short trunks and ample blue-green canopies decorating the landscape. As we got closer to Bolsena we could see Italian women tending their beautiful orange and pink climbing rose bushes growing along fences near the roads in front of the very plain, tan farm houses where they lived.
Someone mentioned that olive orchards are a very serious, intergenerational undertaking in this part of the country. It seems that if you plant an olive tree it must live for about 40 years before it begins bearing fruit. Therefore, if you were to plant a tree during your lifetime it might not begin bearing ripe olives until your children were adults. The harvest comes much later in the Approaching Bolsena, our portion of the tour group being led by Phil Fassett was destined to stay at the Hotel Loriana located next to the lake. Another smaller group being led by Janeen Gemula was several blocks away at the Hotel Ai Platani.
We were quick to check into our rooms and had just enough time to shower and change restaurant which looked as if it were right out of a children's fairy tale book. While changing buses one of the ladies from the little village showed us some posters they had put up all over town announcing the concert we were performing later that evening. It read: "Commune de Bagnoregio presentano Evansville Philharmonic Chorus (Coro Americano de 80 elementi) in concerto Martendi' 4 Giugno 2002 alle ore 21,30 -- Chiesa de San Nicola (Duomo)." They got the number of chorus members wrong but who is keeping score? It was a lovely gesture from these very kind people.
Upon arriving we were led by the waitresses to the veranda of the restaurant surrounded by vines and beautiful flowers. In the distance we could see Civita de Bagnoreggio, a tiny medieval village joined by a 1/4 mile donkey trail which was bombed during World War II. It was rebuilt as a concrete expansion bridge in 1965 and leads one to what can only be described as one of the most outstanding vistas of our entire tour.
I was the first to skip the dessert course of our exquisite meal -- some of the best pasta we have had since arriving, veal scaloppini with vegetables and bread which is out of this world -- but I could not wait to discover this enchanting mountaintop village. I for one felt like a little child as I journeyed across the valley bridge amidst sprinkling rain. Within a few minutes I could see a few others coming across the bridge and I was passed by a resident on a Vespa. We labored up the incline to find these small medieval houses with arched doorways and walls of square stones carved from the mountain below. Surrounding a small piazza, the little buildings formed a sort of fortress around this beautiful little church in the middle. The clock in the tower of the church still works and keeps accurate time. Teresa and several of us took some group pictures; I will have to get copies of one of them since I left my camera in the hotel room.
Walking back towards the other end of the town and peering out over a small, well-manicured flower garden, one could see the surrounding mountains and in between a breathtaking view of farms, distant villages, orchards, grape arbors, olive groves and row crops which dotted the surrounding valleys and hillsides in virtually every direction.
This town is ancient -- originally founded by Etruscans over 2,500 years ago. For over two mellinia from its isolated, towering heights this tiny village has weathered the buffeting winds of shifting kingdoms, duchies, regimes and power alliances, abided the intrigues of dozens of Popes, witnessed the redawning of western enlightenment, industrialization, two World Wars and the years since. Unfortunately, it no longer functions as an independent town.
Our visit apparently startled some of the current residents of this tiny village -- mostly well to do Italian city dwellers who summer here away from the huddled masses. They came peering out of the arched doorways and shuttered windows of their ancient homes, probably hoping we would make a rapid departure from their quiet confines.
We hurried back to the restaurant for the bus back to the little town of Bagnoregio (meaning Bath of the King). I rubbed a blister on my heel from my recently resoled loafers coming back across the bridge.
We understand that this precious little village is doomed -- someday the outer walls will crash into the valley below due to the serious erosion of the mountain which seems to be occurring around the entire perimeter of the town. But while it lasts, it is a remarkable place to get a rare glimpse of medieval Europe which not many people have the opportunity to see.
We returned to the church in the small town nearby -- our large tour buses could not negotiate the small mountain roads surrounding Civitas so the medium sized, orange Mercedes buses had to suffice. We arrived around 7:00 p.m at Santa Christina Church (why the poster said San Nicola
I will never understand) in Bagnoregio for a brief rehearsal time before our first performance of the tour.
We were greeted at the church by Sindaco Erino Pompei, an resident of Bagnoregio responsible for helping us gain access to everything we needed for the concert. The inscription on the front of the church indicated that it was built in 1841. The inside walls of the main chapel were painted a dark maroon faux marbre -- a nice original touch which has apparently been retained by many generations of the faithful in this beautiful town. Portions of the alter were hand carved out of white marble -- very beautiful for so small a church.
Our little concert was most satisfactory. The music ran the gambit of the material we had prepared prior to our trip -- everything from adaptations of Negro spirituals, 16th century sacred music and a few American popular classics. Toward the end of our performance, Crocoli Giovan Bottista the mayor of the little town of Bagnoregio interrupted the concert and with some rather lengthy remarks presented us with a ceramic plate and a couple of tiles with the crest of the little village as tokens of his appreciation. After the concert, he toasted the chorus several times with free-flowing Spumante and bottled water. I sat outside for a few minutes in the pleasant night air and pondered the day's events (and how much I missed Janene).
Briefly, I went back inside the chapel and discovered something rather interesting -- the votive candles on the side alters of the chapel were actually little ele ctric lights that turned on and off with a switch. I suppose this is to prevent a fire in this beautiful little church. (I placed a few coins and said a brief prayer for Janene, Leah, Brandon and Kara).
This morning after repacking my suitcase for our journey to Montecatini, I had a unique experience I want to record. It was misty and a bit overcast when we woke up in Bolsena, and I wore my jeans and a sweater in the cool mountain air for the first time since we had arrived in Italy. Before breakfast I walked down by the lake and sat down on the rocks. While looking out at the fog hanging over the mountain range surrounding the lake, I witnessed a beautiful white swan gliding past my position on the shore -- it was feeding in the early morning mist above the water. I was fondly impressed with this quiet, peaceful setting.
When the swan was about even with me, a light rain began to fall -- cool and clear as the mountain breeze that I felt blowing in my hair but not so hard as to be a nuisance. The raindrops fell like little diamonds into the water of the lake below -- I could see small yearling fish swimming about in the shallows.
I shared my experience with several people on our tour over breakfast. I told them: "This is the Italy I always want to remember!"
A few minutes later I was sipping a coffee outside in a covered seating area the hotel, Bob Geherig was putting luggage in a small rental car. Apparently he and Ramona have been following our buses on this excursion and plan to extend their trip for another week and travel down the other side of the Adriatic from Venice to a town called Spit.
I could have stayed in that mountain lake village for the rest of the week, but alas, in a we are back on the bus off to Orvieto, another old, historic settlement in North Umbria.
While there we visited an incredibly beautiful church, Il Duomo, the foundations of which were set in 1288 on the site of two other churches. It took 300 years to complete. The architecture is an amalgam of the Romanesque and Gothic design with massive Renaissance fresco illustrations of Biblical events surrounding the round "rose" window above and behind the massive alter. I took some pictures and was particularly impressed by the walls and columns made out of an alternating pattern of black and white stone.
The Duomo of Orvieto A fresco which inspired Michelangelo for his painting of the wall
behind the alter of the Sistine Chapel
They are two paintings which are said to have inspired Michelangelo while he was contemplating painting the alter wall of the Sistine Chapel. It is now 4:05 p.m. and we are approaching Motecatini Terme where we are spending the next few nights.
After visiting the Duomo I spent a little time looking out at the countryside beyond the walls built at the bottom of the hill.
Two scenes of the Umbrian countryside beyond the crenelated walls surrounding Orvieto
I briefly did some shopping at Orvieto and bought several souvenirs in between cashing travelers checks and grabbing some excellent pizza which I chomped on running for the bus in the nick of time (I bought Janene a ceramic pitcher shaped like a rooster. I hope I can get this home without breaking it).
June 6, 2002, 6:48 a.m., Hotel San Marco, Montecatini Terme, Tuscany
We are presently staying at the Hotel San Marco, probably the best hotel we have had on this tour. It is pleasantly appointed and the staff seems first-rate. which is occupied by Cassemir, our Austrian tour guide for those of us traveling on Phil Fassett's bus. Upon arriving I noticed that this was the first room in which I had an honest-to-God bath tub and immediately drew the water and had a hot bath. Every room in all of the hotels we have stayed have had a bidet -- over here they seem to be thought of as a necessity among bathroom appliances. It is a novel if not hygienic feature which I find most appealing -- I have always said it might be nice to have a bathroom in a house that was large enough to accommodate one.
Loriana, a beautiful if not larger resort hotel a few minute walk from where we are staying. Montecatini is known as a spa resort and this hotel is located in the middle of immaculately appointed grounds. The pink floral bushes and shrubs surrounding wide open green spaces remind one of West Baden Springs in French Lick, Indiana. Frank Liberti, our baritone section leader last year, walking among a small group of us commented that I was not the first to have made this observation.
I have long been one to not mince words about the quality of our performances and I must say that our performance last night really sucked. There were a number of reasons for this not the least of which was that we had just finished one of the most delightful meals -- perhaps as good as but not better than the one we had in Bagnoregio! The staff at the Hotel Loriana are out of this world -- again, another truly first rate crew. They were most friendly and seemed pre-occupied with pleasing us.
Our four-course meal consisted of a wonderfully prepared pennoni rigati pasta with a light tomato sauce (I bought a green bag of pasta similar to this at a small green grocer/market in Orvieto), a main course of pork tenderloin, braised potatoes that were delightful and cooked zucchini that was perfect. The hard crusted bread was the best we have had on the tour and dessert course was a flaky, Bavarian cream pie with confectioners sugar sprinkled on top followed by fruit salad. It was simply perfect in every way.
As the sun set over the beautiful grounds of this place, Teresa Cheung lead us in a brief rehearsal of the music we are performing at the Duomo in Florence immediately after this substantial meal. She seemed pleased with our rehearsal -- the music is not extremely difficult and I performed one of the pieces many years ago. After an hour of rest and several glasses of orange juice in the various rooms of the lobby, by the time our performance started it was almost dark in the outside courtyard next to this hotel.
Since there was no shell or back wall behind the area upon which we were standing, we could not hear ourselves singing with the electric piano or read the notes on our music. From our standpoint it was pretty much a fiasco but some of the audience made a point of leaving us with very kind words -- I suppose it was not that bad! Alfred Savia announces all of our performances in both Italian and English and it is always intriguing to listen to his Italian cadence as he speaks to the audience.
After the performance we all returned to the hotel -- some may have retired for the evening but by my lights it was still too early to go to bed in Italy's most famous spa resort. I change clothes and set out for a stroll down Viale IV Novembre to Corso Roma -- what looks to be one of the main drags in this resort town of the mountains. Before leaving the hotel one of the desk clerks told me that the new silver Vespa locked up outside the front door of the hotel belonged to the hotel manager. I would have loved to have ridden it! The streets are well lit and the shops are all beautifully decorated with antiques and furnishings, clothing, sunglasses, watches, beach wear and all of the other things you would find in any of the major resort towns around the world. This section of the city has a pace and a feel reminiscent of the Georgetown section of Washington, D.C.
I found a little bar with a singer performing to recorded music at a sidewalk café. I ordered a drink and listened for about 20 minutes. When he went on break I tipped him with a Kennedy half-dollar and gave him one of my American flag toothpicks. He flashed me a big smile and shook my hand.
Walking back to the hotel I noticed that the merchandise in many of the shop windows of this place is very expensive -- hand-tailored suits can set you back in excess of $800 Euros for something really nice and cut in the European manner. I particularly like the top stitching on the lapels of some of the suit coats -- but the prices are way out of reach. Shoes are also quite expensive, but I suppose the quality of hand-tailoring with real leather soles is worth the nearly 380 Euros they require. There were also many expensive and unfamiliar sports cars parked along Alfa Romeo spyders.
It seems that the local economy -- at least in this resort town -- is thriving. This is somewhat surprising for a nation which a U.S. State Department Backgrounder claims has a per-capita income which hovers around $18,500.00 per annum. There must be some incredible poverty in other portions of this country that tourist never see.
As I was walking I stopped to briefly chat with Steve Beckman who was having drinks with Jennifer Stevens at a sidewalk table in front of a little bar. Soon, I turned and went back into the night.
When you get away from the main streets there are very few street lights. It is easy to get lost and nothing looked familiar. After wandering around for a bit, it was getting late and I desk clerk proffered a four-color map upon which he kindly showed me how to reach my destination about two blocks away.
After returning to a very quiet hotel room, I opened my window shutters a little and tried to go to sleep. After a few minutes I found CAN on the television only to learn about how nuclear power facilities in the U.S. were on high alert status because of something going on elsewhere in the world. My mind was filled with a million thoughts and memories which I wanted to record but could not.
This morning we cannot eat breakfast because the hotel restaurant does not open until 7:30 a.m. and we are supposed to board the buses at 7:45 due to some stupid traffic regulation in Montecatini.
We are heading for a full day of shopping, sight seeing and other activities in Florence today including our performance at the Duomo in the evening. This should prove to be an interesting day. (I miss Janene so much!)
June 7, 2002, 7:45 a.m., Hotel San Marco, Montecatini Terme
Yesterday was a pretty full day and it will take a while to describe everything that happened. We were up early and had to eat breakfast early in the Hotel San Marco's dining room for a 7:45 am departure. The tour guides keep telling us something about certain travel restrictions in place in Montecatini regarding the tour buses.
The traffic heading into Florence was pretty frenetic considering it is not really a big city like Rome. There are a lot of vehicles here, again, many different brands of scooters, SMART cars and more of the Piaggio APE conveyances -- three-wheeled utility vehicles like small Vespa trucks based on the motor scooter concept.
We departed our buses onto the rather shaded streets of Florence (we did not emerge from the shadows until we reached the Duomo later this morning) a group of us abandoned our pre-scheduled walking tour around the city to go to the Galleria dell' Accademia and pay our 6.50 Euro admission to see Michelangelo Buonarotti's marble masterpiece, the 13-foot statue of David.
The native Florentine master produced this imposing tour-de-force from a single chunk of Carreran marble from 1501 until 1504, beginning when the sculptor was only 27 years old. At the time he had only recently completed the Pieta, his first major sculpture, which we had seen earlier just inside the massive bronze doors of St. Peter's in Rome.
The sculpture was original commissioned in 1501 by the City of Florence to be placed high above the city on one of the Cathedral fortresses. Michelangelo was only 26 years old at the time. After it was completed the city fathers deemed the statue a civic patriotic symbol and demanded that it be displayed as a shrine to the fledgling Florentine Republic in front of the Palazzo Vecchio.
The Palazzo Vecchio, once the civil government building
of Florence is undergoing an extensive architectural restoration.
But as you might expect, it was soon to succumbed to the over exuberance of the notorious Italian temperament. In 1527 someone threw a wooden bench out of the window of the Palazzo Vecchio breaking the left arm of the graceful human form into three pieces. A few years later, in 1544, the left shoulder if the statue collapsed under its own weight killing an innocent bystander.
Apparently, this particular piece of marble had been passed over by numerous other more seasoned craftsmen working in Florence -- the popular thinking was that it was totally unsuitable and entirely to narrow for carving so massive a structure. But the young master was not daunted. He proceeded to chip away month after month until the dimensions of the Hellenistic, classical super human form began to reveal itself under the artist's loving hands.
This incredible work has been on display inside this especially prepared domed alcove atop a five-foot pedestal since 1873. The building was first established as an art school for sculptors, painters and artisans by Michelangelo and others in 1563. Later, in the 18th century, much of the space was converted to galleries to provide students with inspirational models.
Upon close inspection, you can see the repaired damage -- it is apparent that long holes must have been drilled into both faces of the broken arm to insert metal rods to hold this enormous chunk of the statue solidly in place. The arm, which is cantilevered out from the rest of the figure, must weigh several hundred pounds. After reassembly, the crevice must have been smoothed with a suitable mastic made of marble dust and textured to resemble the original patina of the marble.
Moving the statue several blocks from the piazza to its present location must have been quite an undertaking. It required the services of some 40 men and a dozen pack animals who labored vigorously over a five-day period.
Kitty read to us from a guide book about the tree which runs up the back of the figure's right leg. It was carved there for a reason -- had it not been incorporated into the design, due to the enormous oversized proportions of the head so high up in the air, the additional marble was needed in this lower portion of the statue to balance it and make sure it would not become top-heavy and fall over.
We later saw a replica of this statue sitting in roughly the same spot where it was located on the Pallazo Vecchio
The light within this room is subdued -- perfect for viewing this priceless artistic antiquity.
Within this same gallery one can also view four "non-finito" (unfinished) nude carvings entitled "Quatro Prigioni," attributed to Michelangelo. These were originally intended for the tomb of Pope Julius II. Nearby in the back of the gallery is a small bronze bust of the master near one of the rear doorways.
Soon after leaving the Accademia, we went for a brief guided walk to the Piazza in front of the Duomo, the enormous domed cathedral of Florence with its nearby bell tower. This is the building in which we would be performing later this afternoon. We snapped a few pictures of the front of the building and soon would find ourselves to our own devices to either shop, eat or sight see until 1:30 p.m when we were supposed to reconvene for a tour of the Uffizi. A small group broke off and followed Alfred to a brief walk-through of the Cathedral of Santa Crocea where many famous Italians are buried. Instead of following this group, I went with Kitty Savia to the banks of the Arno River and observe the various bridges which cross the river at several points along the way.
From this vantage point one can view the Ponte Vecchio, a beautiful three-arched design first constructed in 1345 -- the only bridge left intact by Nazi occupational forces that withdrew from the city in early August, 1944.
The Ponte Veccio in the distance from the bank of the Arno River
They were under strict orders from Adolf Hitler not to damage the bridge (it was his favorite). In response to the ensuing allied forces, buildings at both ends of the bridge were demolished and the rubble mined in an effort to slow the allies forward progress as the German forces retreated to the North.
Alfred explained the historical significance of this structure. Above the lower elevation of the bridge, Francisco I commissioned Giorgio Vasari to build an elevated walkway linking the Uffizi with the Palazzo Pitti, the castle of the di Medici family, so the family and their entourage could walk from one side of the river to the other without mixing with the huddled masses on the lower passageway. At the time the time the Uffizi was an office building in which the di Medici family conducted their far-flung international trade which brought them such immense wealth.
Currently, on the lower level one finds various up-scale jewelry boutiques, in place of the numerous butcher shops, fish mongers, leather tradesmen who occupied these little cantilevered structures off of the lower level of the bridge centuries ago.
While I was standing on the banks of the Arno, the plastic rewind crank on the bottom of Amanda's camera broke so I have to buy her a new camera.
It was almost noon and I spent the next few minutes looking at expensive merchandise in Duomo, but I did not buy anything. Outside the Straw Market (an area of the city which apparently once was just that, an open-air market covered with straw where similar vendors plied their wares), I did find an interesting statue which makes for a neat story -- a bronze wild boar with a shiny nose. Legend has it that if you rub the nose and toss a few coins into the fountain below, you will someday return to Florence, get married and live happily ever after. The proceeds from these donations go to support the local opera company in Florence, so I was generous in my offering! I hope to visit with this pig again some day, next time with Janene!
At a designated time, a group of us reconvened and proceeded to Vivio for lunch. This is a world-famous gelato/café that Alfred and Kitty revisit every time they are in Florence. Indeed, many travel books boast of the amazing quality of the food, confections and coffee one can get in this very small place -- the workers inside were quite busy but very friendly.
I bought an egg and vegetable sandwich made out of flat, round bread (kind of looked like cold pizza crust on top and bottom) and a Coca Cola. From general observations in all the cities we have visited, no other major American cola product is available in Italy. Later I would go back for a chocolate and hazelnut gelato cone which I highly recommend. It was simply heavenly. A strong cappuccino topped it all off and prepared us for our journey through the tiny, Piazza della Signoria.
9:30 a.m., June 7, 2002, On the Bus from Montecatini Terme to Siena
It is currently pouring down rain as I continue to write about our first day in Florence. It is truly amazing to behold what has emerged in this place since the days when a small tent marketplace occupied the spot where the ancient Roman Via Cassia crossed the Arno River for points north over 2,000 years ago.
In passing through the tiny, narrow streets of Florence, you inevitably find yourself walking into this wide, open paved area entitled the Piazza della Signoria.
Over the course of a several-hundred-year-period from between the 13th and the 16th century, the Pallaza Vecchio with its 308-foot crenellated tower was built to house the medieval town council. It is said that the bell in the clock tower still rings occasionally to summon the people of Florence to parlimenti, important public meetings which require the participation of residents.
There was a time, however, when this piazza was not so tranquilly filled with shoppers and busy tourists -- in the days of Leonardo da Vinci people were apparently still being burned at the stake on wooden elevated platforms outside the Pallazo Veccho. An illustrated biography in my library at home illustrates one of these occasions in a painting that looks oddly like a cartoon.
Just before proceeding to the Uffizi, I took some pictures and then looked over at the Fountain of Neptune which dominates the very center of the piazza. The controversial sculpture was conceived and built by Bartolommeo Ammannanti to commemorate the naval conquests of Cosimo I, the first Grand Duke of Tuscany, who lived here until 1550. A huge bronze of the Grand Duke on horseback is another commanding presence in this piazza not very far away.
Bronze statue of Cosimo I, first Grand Duke of Tuscany
To the right of the Uffizi you can see the Loggia della Signoria, a roofed structure which is open on the sides and contains numerous copies of some of Florence's most famous sculptures.
Inside one finds a full-sized copy of the Michelangelo David and several others including the Rape of the Sabine Women by Giovanni da Bologna and Benvenuti Cellini's mythological Perseus standing over Medusa.
We gathered as a group outside and proceeded into the Uffizi. The largest museum in Florence, most of the priceless collection is upstairs in numerous galleries on the second floor.
Our tour concentrated primarily on late medieval and early Renaissance paintings during which time the artists of this region seemed to be experimenting with line and color to develop three dimensional effects in their mainly religious art work.
Earlier, on the first floor we briefly breezed through a grouping of sketches attributed to Leonardo da Vinci's notebooks -- they were most impressive but we could not stay long. These were the only works by the famous master painter, engineer and anatomist that we were able to see during our entire visit to Italy.
There seemed to be some predominant themes which emerge from observing these earliest Renaissance paintings: the Adoration of the Magi, scenes of Mary prior to the birth of Jesus and the death and removal of Christ's body from the cross seem to dominate late medieval iconography. There are other scenes depicting the lives of some of the Apostles and noblemen of the church but one cannot help but notice that it is almost as if all of the teachings of Christ which blue-printed the ideal Christian way of life or the miracles performed by Christ ever took place. It is almost as if the rest of Christ's life was virtually insignificant in the eyes of the papal rulers. They seemed to be preoccupied with fear, obedience and social control and not so concerned about conveying the concept of eternal salvation purchased as a free gift with the blood shed on Calvary.
As we were moving from gallery to gallery observing all of the art work I remember thinking to myself that perhaps this could have been part of what the Reformation was all about. After about an hour and a half in this museum -- the capacity is strictly kept to around 660 visitors at any given time -- we retired to a bright, airy coffee bar where you could buy soft drinks. We proceeded to an outdoor veranda which had a wait staff. I put my feet up for a minute and chatted with Darla Olberding, Ramona Gehering and a couple of other travelers -- plotting our next move in this incredibly beautiful city!
I opted for a session of power shopping at the straw market! I bought several presents, a new camera for Amanda and a new black leather bag that is simply fabulous. I talked the vendor down from 130 Euro to 100 and upon giving him one of my flag toothpicks and a Kennedy half dollar he gave me about a three foot long Red White and Green Italian flag!
The shopping time passed quickly and was for a few minutes interrupted by a brief summer shower which ended just as quickly as it had began. Soon we were to reconvene at the Duomo for our performance at the 6 o'clock Mass.
Earlier in the day Alfred told us that Michelangelo said that he could never design a better dome than the one created by Fillipo Brunelleschi in the mid-1400s in his home town -- and proceeded to work on the design plans of the even more massive dome atop Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome.
Brunellschi's immortal Duomo di Santa Maria del Fiore The Last Judgment fresco painted on the underside of the Duomo
How does one begin to aptly describe these incredible structures? The colorful frescoes that adorn the arches atop the three enormous doors in the front, the intricate red, white and green marble stone marquetry which abounds on every side, the accompanying "Campanile di Giotto" the elegant 280 -foot tall Tuscan-Romanesque bell tower designed by Giotto de Bondone, the famous 13th century Florentine artist, and the octagonal "Battestero," the baptistery dedicated to John the Baptist, the oldest building in this incomparable city dating to the 11th century -- it is all so overwhelmingly beautiful!
The enormous bronze-paneled doors around the baptistery depict various Old Testament events and took the early 15th-century artist Lorenzo Ghiberti over 30 years to complete. They were deemed the "Gates of Paradise" by Michelangelo. Overall, the structure, completed in 1466 took over 170 years to build.
Taken together, these three structures make perhaps the boldest statement of Renaissance architecture anywhere in the world. I walked around the entire building complex in an attempt to take pictures and remind myself of what this place looks like. On one side, workmen had erected scaffolding and were apparently cleaning and pointing up mortar joints on a portion of the terre cotta roof and the top part of the round drum portion of the dome -- up close it was apparently that years of fossil fuel emissions and acid rain had taken their toll on this massive structure and its intricate marble carvings.
Scaffolding erected for repairs and cleaing of the Duomo Giotto's Campanile adjacent to the cathedral
completed in 1334 rises 255 feet above the ground
It is apparent that similar cleaning operations will need to be done on other aspects of the building in the not-too-distant future.
As I stood there somewhat mesmerized by this incredibly beautiful place, I thought for a minute how amazing it was that this building is still intact after what Florence went through during the Nazi occupation of World War II.
Just before going into the cathedral, I grabbed a cup of coffee at a place called The Black Bar across the piazza from the Duomo. Inside I found Jimmy Gish, Andy Flynn and Sarah Anderson sitting in a booth on the second floor -- they had already availed themselves of the meager restroom facilities up a narrow staircase nearby.
By the time I got out of the restroom the other chorus members had already left. I rushed across the piazza and into the side door of this enormous building -- Santa Maria del Fiore. It was not until much later that I was to discover the true magnitude of this enormous building.
When I entered the dimly-lit chapel, Teresa already had the group rehearsing our music on the stone steps at the right-hand side of the chapel. The reverberation time within this incredible 350-foot structure is about 8.5 to 9 seconds. To hear our voices continue to bounce around within the dome, the walls and the marble floor was awe inspiring!
A few minutes before the service while we were seated in the chapel, Teresa, Alfred and Dan Scavone walked to an adjacent room with the elderly priest to discuss the performance as we patiently waited. After a while, they all returned and the mass began. The mass itself did not begin until 6:00 p.m. but the older of the two priests in charge of the mass said the Rosary prior to our Mass performance.
Friday June 7, 2002
4:19 p.m., San Giovanni -- "Manhattan of Italy," Sidewalk Café inside the Wall
This was a very sacred moment (to be listening to this elderly priest say the Rosary in Italian) but nowhere near as impressive as what was about to occur.
In years past the Vatican allowed many religious and secular choral groups to perform at various churches around Italy. Many of these groups apparently took advantage of the situation and gave performances which were considered inappropriate for the sacred services held in these historic places. Under the revised policy, there is apparently a rigorous selection process and outside groups are only one of those organizations selected by Vatican officials to sing at the Duomo.
At the beginning of the service we assembled on the side of the chapel on stone steps facing the right had side of the seating area. A few minutes before the service while we were seated in the chapel, Teresa, Alfred and Dan Scavone moved to an adjacent room to discuss the performance as we patiently waited. After a while, they all returned and the mass began.
The priest presented a homily in Italian. I tried to make out some of the words but it was impossible to understand what he was saying. Suddenly, it was time for us to begin.
Our first piece was the Gloria by Antonio Vivaldi – a joyous piece which is actually more effectively performed with orchestral accompaniment. This was followed at the appropriate time piece with conductor Richard Hyatt in an All-City Choir performance at Bosse High School in 1971, so it was quite familiar.
In a few minutes there was an offering collect by the ushers and then we sang The Sicut Cervus by Giovanni Pier Luigi da Palestrina (1525 - 1594). The pre-Baroque, polyphonic structure of this piece seemed particularly appropriate in this ancient domed cathedral.
Italian social critic Luigi Barzini writes lovingly of the accomplishments of Palestrina, who in his own way was personally responsible for this very performance -- indeed, all choral music performed within the Catholic church.
Giovanni Pierluigi Palestrina
In the mid-16th century, many of the clerical authorities looked with disfavor upon singing in the church. Many times performers sang sacred words to secular melodies of foreign importation -- music which one would be more apt to hear in taverns, dance halls or brothels.
This was considered scandalous -- so much so that during the twenty-second session of The Council of Trent in September 1562, the council decided "to exclude from churches all such music that introduced anything impure or lascivious." A congregation of eight cardinals was appointed by Pope Pius IV to study the matter.
It was known that four of the men selected were determined to ban all music from churches. Palestrina, who took his name from the mountain town of his birthplace, was called to the scene to break the deadlock. He was instructed to compose an original mass in the rather sober ecclesiastical style considered appropriate by church officials that would strictly inspire holy thoughts. If he failed, all the choral establishments of the Pontifical Chapel and all other church musical organizations would be disbanded and music excluded from religious services. This would have effectively abolished an entire profession within the church.
From Palestrina's pen came "Missa Papae Marcelli," the Mass of Pope Marcellus, which is apparently still performed frequently. The Cardinals heard the piece and church music was saved for civilized Christendom. He had created a new art form and with it invented Italian liturgical music.
As our voices soared into the ether amidst this enormous domed structure (it was originally conceived to be able to hold all 20,000 Florentine residents in the early 1400s) my mind recalled the angelic images depicted in many of the early Renaissance paintings we had seen earlier in the day at the Uffizi.
The heavenly sound radiated out of this little chapel as if we were being directed by Gabriel himself. I wondered to myself how many times this piece of music had been performed in this place over the six centuries since it was first built. I believe it is safe to say that for all of us, this was one of the most memorable
experiences of our lives. At Teresa's precise direction, we sang with a purpose and dedication which I had not heard before -- nor should I suppose had any of us. I had to catch myself during the performance to keep from completely coming apart at the seams emotionally -- but I did not cry, not yet at least!
The service ended with the more modern harmonic strains of Randall Thompson's Alleluia and again our voices soared as if they were each inspired by the Holy Spirit.
At the end of our performance which closed the service, there was the brief pause of silence and then some of those attending the mass applauded for us. I felt a bit awkward standing in this ancient temple of faith with tears pouring from my eyes and having people clap for what we had just done. My mind raced -- thirty years ago applauding in church would have been considered inappropriate but I suppose much has changed in recent times. I found myself yearning for silence in this holy place -- but it was not to be.
Looking around I began to notice that many of us were crying and embracing one another. Mike Musgrave came over and gave me a wholesome hug and told me this is what it was all about! He, of course, was correct.
I believe it is safe to say that we all experienced a profound sense of belonging from what had just transpired -- a condition of spiritual unity and fulfillment. For this one special moment we had all made a long, overseas pilgrimage of nearly 8,000 miles and however many years we each may have lived in our own individual lifetimes. No amount of money nor any material possession could ever bestow upon us such a feeling of belonging and fulfillment.
If I may depart from those who seek to impose a secular view of all modern life, it seemed as if the Lord and the spirit of his son Jesus Christ were in that very room, looking down.
Saturday June 8, 2002, 8:39 a.m., Hotel San Marco, Montecatini Terme
Upon recovering from what had just occurred, we collected ourselves and split up inn groups as we proceeded outside. Some were returning on an early bus back to Montecatini while another group of us followed Alfred and Kitty Savia to a really nice restaurant called Casalinga in "Oltrano" on the other side of the Arno River. There were 27 people around the big table in the restaurant -- this would prove to be a bit of a problem later in the evening as we proceeded to the train station.
It was pretty obvious that this was also a very congenial, family-owned restaurant. They served us in a sort of family style with a choice of the first course of either macaroni with a light tomato sauce or a Ravioli stuffed with spinach and mozzarella cheese. I chose the Ravioli and it proved to be a pleasant diversion from all the other pasta dishes we had earlier in the week.
The main course selections were either a sliced pork dish or grilled beef steak. I had the beef. It came with braised potatoes (again!) and cooked green beans in a sauce. By the time I had eaten all of this there was no room for dessert. The wine poured quite freely during dinner but I dutifully sipped my Coca Cola all the while. During the meal, Bob Geherig invited me to come out to their home on Tree Top Lane near U.S.I. to go fishing some day when we returned from our trip. They would be staying on in Europe another week and explore the Eastern Shore of the Adriatic by automobile.
We paid our check (24 Euros each -- quite a bargain!) for this ample and delicious Tuscan meal and proceeded into the night.
Gathering ourselves again outside the restaurant, a light rain began falling on the uneven cobblestones beneath our feet. I could once again use the umbrella that I bought earlier from a street vendor during the brief rainstorm earlier in the day. We proceeded around the corner and down the street to a coffee bar. We all had either a coffee or an espresso and while we were there a tall rather middle-aged gentleman introduced himself. Turns out he was Benjamin Weir, a musician who was personally acquainted with Al and Kitty Savia. He had played with the Evansville Philharmonic when a previous conductor was leading the organization and is currently on the faculty of the University of Kentucky. He and his wife were on vacation in England -- we all remarked at how amazing it was to meet someone we knew this far away from home.
In the time it took us to drink our coffee, the slight drizzle we were experiencing escalated into a torrential downpour. Our group began scampering towards a taxi stand not far from the café in the pouring rain.
It took several of the small Italian cabs filled to capacity to transport our group -- each of them scooting feverishly through the traffic congestion which seems to be everywhere on the tiny, winding streets of this city.
The rain continued until we reached the train station. Rushing inside, we lined up only to learn that the last train of the evening to Montecatini had been cancelled. A few minutes later we were informed that a bus had been dispatched to substitute for the train. Some of us were on the verge of panic. Al and Kitty were apparently the last to leave the taxi stand and they were the only people in our group who understood much Italian.
It was kind of a bizarre scene -- here I was buzzed up on strong espresso coffee, running in and out of the terminal watching for the last cab in the pouring rain and wondering if or when we would ever get back to our warm beds that evening. I ran to the other end of the station and crossed the street to enter the McDonald's (yes, they have them here too, what a location!) and went downstairs to use the rest room.
Finally, amidst the pouring rain Al and Kitty arrive with Bill and Anita Doty – what a relief!
2:22 p.m., on the bus leaving Florence for Mastre
Farewell, enchanting city -- you have touched my heart in a very special way. Returning to the discussion of the return from Florence the night before last, shortly after returning from McDonald's we boarded a large, touring-style bus for our return trip to Montecatini. It poured down rain the entire way but the dark bus ride gave us an opportunity to relax a bit from the emotionally draining events earlier in the day.
When we got to the bus stop in Montecatini it was still pouring rain in buckets (it had been raining steadily for over two hours). One of the tenors, Gary Viehe, could not seem to understand why I was a bit apprehensive about taking my beautiful, new black Italian leather bag that I had bought at the straw market out in this horrendous downpour.
It was nearly one o'clock in the morning, and instead of trudging out into the pouring rain with all the others (they looked like drowned rats leaving the bus terminal without umbrellas) I waited at the terminal and in about two minutes the headlamps of a beautiful little white Fiat came splashing its way up to the taxi stand. I jumped in and minutes later was on the front doorstep of the Hotel San Marco -- my dry leather bag under my arm. The cab driver seemed to really appreciate the Kennedy half and the American flag I gave him -- he looked at them and in a quiet, touching way said "Amerdica." With a big smile, he shook my hand and I urged him to come visit my country one day.
I quickly made my way up to the room, turned out the lights, opened the window shutter and watched CAN on television for a few minutes. I soon began hearing my soaked comrades trundling up the staircase to their respective hotel rooms!
It had been a long and memorable day -- one which I shall never forget.
* * *
The next day started later than usual -- we did not have to leave the hotel until about 9:30 a.m. so some of us could recover a bit of the sleep we may have lost on the long bus ride back to Montecatini the night before or eat breakfast in a leisurely manner.
Today, we were scheduled to go to Siena up in the mountains of Tuscany. The trip to Siena takes about 1 ½ hours and here we found yet another walled medieval town with tiny streets proceeding up to yet another domed church on the top of a hill. After a while it all becomes a sort of a blur and it will probably take many weeks of looking at photographs and conversation to sort through where all we have been.
This place was a little different in that it seemed as if prices were a bit more reasonable and we were all given an opportunity to do some power shopping! In one little boutique I spent around 100 Euros and purchased many presents and souvenirs for family and friends.
(Before I resume the narrative of Siena I need to explain the changes made to our schedule for the final day of the tour. Because of the torrential downpour we had Thursday night, the entire northern part of Italy, Switzerland and portions of southern France were all flooded this morning, Saturday, June 8th. Cassemir, our Intropa tour guide, contacted the fire brigade in Venice and they said the entire city was imperiled and that while we might be able to get into the city during the daytime, it might be a chore getting out with the expected high water. Apparently, there was a confluence of several unforeseen events which caused this flooding. Since they feared further rain, it was decided that we would spend the morning of our last day in Florence, on our way to Mastre outside Venice and near the Marco Polo airport.)
Our first stop after leaving the buses on a parking lot at the bottom of the hill was to visit the Basilic di Santo Domenico.
Basicilica de Santo Domingo
Inside the church on a sacred alter is displayed the head of Saint Catherine of Siena framed in a golden habit and displayed behind an elaborately carved marble alter.
Sister Catherine's head
Someone said that while her head and one index finger are in Siena, her body is somewhere in Rome (perhaps at St. Peter's) and one of her feet is in Venice. It is apparent that for centuries Italians have had a certain fixation with the remains of famous people.
Saint Catherine (1347-1380) the patron saint of Siena, was well known around Italy as a mystical Christian teacher. Images of her reveal the Stigmata, the wounds on the hands and feet of Christ when he was crucified.
Sister Catherine, the Patron Saint of Siena
She was immortalized in church history having worked to reunify the papacy during a period of serious division within the church. She traveled to Avignon as an ambassador of Florence in 1376 to make peace with the Pope during what has been called the "Babalonian Captivity" of the papacy. While her mission failed, she so impressed Pope Gregory XI that he was persuaded to move his administration the following year back to to Rome from Avignon. During the Western Schism of 1378 she was an adherent to Pope Urban VI, who immediately summoned her to Rome where she lived until her mysterious death at the age of 33 in 1380.
Although Pope Gregory died in 1387 having returned the church to Rome, it took yet another 40 years and the efforts of a later Pope Martin V (1417-1431) to finally put an end to the serious institutional division within the church.
Some 300 of Sister Catherine's letters survive to this day and are considered among the most treasured works of Tuscan ecclesiastical literature.
I took some pictures of the two main rooms of this rather dark church -- flash bulbs were not allowed so I have my fingers crossed.
We purchased a few post cards in a gift shop and then proceeded up the hill to see what sights to behold within this beautiful walled city.
Just as we arrived inside the enormous arch in the wall at the foot of the hill (the Duomo, is again at the top of a very steep hill as is always the case of these medieval Tuscan villages) I stopped at a sidewalk café for a cappuccino. There was a six-year old boy named Francisco cleaning tables and kibitzing with patrons -- this was obviously a family business and you could sense the love shared for all who worked in this little café.
The "Campo" of Siena home of the Palio delle Contrade horse race
I gave Francisco one of the American flag toothpicks and a Kennedy half dollar and his face just beamed. His young mother spoke to him in Italian of how his grandfather had once traveled there.
I brought these coins and flags at the advice of Jim Schneider, a coin collector who is one of my clients. I have been giving them out to people in Rome, Bolsena, Montecatini, and Florence the past several days -- it is a subtle way of extending something of our country to them and then to watch magical things happen -- especially the smiles on the beautiful Italian faces! Everywhere we have traveled I have sensed in the Italian people a genuine affection for American tourists. I have contemplated this a number of times in reflective moments during our tour. What are this sources of this affection?
On one level, I believe there is this romance with the concept of freedom which in some way they believe our nation represents. There is something about the way they say "A-mer-dee'-ca" -- diminutive of course from their immortal countryman, Amerigo Vespucci, the Florentine navigator who left behind his accounts of four voyages to the New World, including the first of which occurred in 1497-1498. A man named Waldseemiller translated Vespucci's accounts of the voyage in 1507. The translator suggested that inasmuch as the former resident of Seville (a seasoned sailor, he outfitted the ships of other overseas voyagers prior to setting out for the new world on his own) had apparently made it to the mainland prior to Columbus or Cabot who were also leading expeditions, that his name should apply to the mainland of the southern continent. The name stuck and the rest is history.
At another level the Italian people obviously appreciate the hundreds of thousands of American tourists who come to spend literally billions of Euros in their shops, hotels and restaurants -- tourism is obviously a very important segment of the Italian domestic economy. Many were probably quite unsettled when the September 11th attack occurred in New York City, and their businesses have probably suffered accordingly.
But finally, I think many of the older people personally remember the liberation during World War II when American forces led Allied troops to run the looting Nazis out of their country. The occupation years were not kind to the Italian people and the stories of their hardships during the war years rival those of the French occupation. Frequently, I have urged individual Italians I have met to visit the United States and I truly believe more would visit our country if they could afford it.
After about an hour of shopping in Siena, I grabbed a bite to eat at a little restaurant on the Piazzo del Campo -- a huge open air public square surrounded by restaurants, shops and street vendors.
At the next table I met Peter and Susan Blackman and John and Margaret McGwire, two couples from New Zealand who said they were a part of The Friendship Force. This is an international group of world travelers who assist people from foreign countries started by former President Jimmy Carter several years ago. There are chapters of this group in virtually all major cities throughout the world. You apparently earn points by letting other chapter members from foreign countries stay in your home while they travel around your country. As you build up your account, you can redeem your credits by traveling to another country and staying with members in other host countries.
They said they were currently being hosted by a group in Pisa where they rented a car and drove over to Siena and other destinations during their two-week visit. I gave them flags and Kennedy half dollars and they in turn gave me a little gold Maori tiki god hat pin which I put on my hat immediately. We sipped our cappuccino, conversed for a bit and they told me that several of their friends had attended the Indianapolis 500 mile race a number of times thanks to the assistance of Friendship Force members in the Indianapolis area.
They urged me to visit New Zealand someday and to plan on staying several weeks to see the entire continent.
We bid one another farewell. After they left their table outdoor patrons of this restaurant were entertained by a comical mime in a red beret who did all sorts of silly things to embarrass passing tourists. Later, at the end of his little theatrical performance, he passed a plastic cup for tips.
Looking out over the fan-shaped piazza, this medieval urban landscape is dominated by the 335-foot tall Torre del Mangia, what looks to be yet another bell tower flanking the piazza.
The Torre del Mangia
One can tell the current time on the clock located at the lower portion of this tower. This huge rectangular structure is architecturally quite similar to the bell tower we saw at the Pallazo Vecchio in Florence -- it has deep, tapered, corbelled arches on each side which lead up to a
widened overlook area surrounded by a balustrade. At the very top it has crenulated walls similar to the other structure but the upper most portion of this tower looks to be made of grey limestone instead of the red brick which is used for the steep walls beneath the cupola. I would have enjoyed climbing to the top of this tower but time was very precious at this moment and I wanted to actually meet some of the people of this village.
After lunch I took off walking solo through the tiny, dark streets of Siena. In a leather goods store on the Via San Pietro I encountered a beautiful Eritrean girl name Gidey. I told her about meeting many Ethiopians people long ago when I lived in Washington, D.C. She said she was an art student in Florence and told me about an excellent Ethiopian restaurant in Milan. After snapping a few pictures of a restoration site on the Via de Citta, I walked a little
further to number 45 where I found the enchanting antique shop Antichita Monna Agnese – operated by Luana Di Paolo and her beautiful daughter Christina.
Luana Di Paolo proprietor of Antichita Monna Agnese
Ms. Di Paolo loves Americans and the United States! She told me she had been to New York three times in the past twenty years. From the look of the antiquities in her store, it is no wonder! Although she was a little hesitant, after I gave her one of my flag toothpicks she allowed me to take a few pictures of the beautiful items inside her shop. I walked a little further and decided to look inside The Church of Sant' Agostino, the mother church of the Augustian order which was started in 1258 and not completed until around 1490. There are many beautiful religious works of art by famous Italian painters
within this church.
On the bus coming into Siena, we were told about a horse race that runs annually at the Campo on July 2 and August 16 -- the world famous Palio delle Contrade. Held each year since the inaugural race in 1283, it is apparently a festive occasion which lasts several days. With elimination heats held on several days preceding the event, there can be as many as 17 final contestants in the race. Since the piazza is only large enough for 10 horses to participate, the bareback-riding finalists draw straws to determine the fields of the three elimination heats. The contests are preceded by a huge parade of traditional medieval pageantry
and costumes -- this all apparently takes much longer than the actual race. Finally, the three lap event takes place inside the Campo, a very small space compared with American horse racing tracks. Observers watch the race from the middle of the piazza where the wine flows freely throughout the day. Apparently, this is as much a social event for jet-setting tourists as it is a serious equestrian competition. During the evening following the race, the winning horse takes a place of honor during an enormous open-air candlelight banquet held in the Campo. Must be quite a spectacle.
After lingering in this part of the town for too long, it was a long walk over to the area of the Duomo of Siena, yet another outstanding example of pre-Rennaisance gothic architecture. The general facade reminds me of a similar church we saw in Orvieto but the bell tower clad in white and green marble is outstanding.
The Duomo of Siena
I took a whirlwind walk through this incredibly beautiful church -- incredibly intricate carvings of white and green marble on the alter and outstanding stained glass windows are everywhere.
Interior decorative appointments of the Duomo of Siena
* * *
Before we knew it, again the sand had trickled through the hour glass and we were aboard the buses for yet another two-hour ride to San Gimignano – referred to as the "Manhattan of Tuscany" because of the 14 remaining stone watch towers of over 70 of which were erected in the 12th and 13th centuries by the
Three scenes of the medieval towers of San Gimignano
wealthy families of the region.
This ancient city was originally founded during the 3rd century BC by the Etruscans much like Civitas in the Umbrian highlands. It takes its name from the early days of its recorded history from Saint Geminianus who defended the mountaintop village from Attila and his huns in the 10th century AD. It later emerged during the late medieval and Renaissance period as a market town and a stopover point for pilgrims on their way from points North to Rome and the Vatican. For a while during the 14th Century the Florentine author Dante called it his home. In the mid-1300s the town was practically wiped out completely due to the Bubonic Plague and it was not until the mid-1800s that it emerged as a major tourist spot.
The agricultural heritage of the region has carried forward to modern times as it now boasts one of the largest and most widely renowned vinyards producing Veranaccia di San Gimniagno. A full-bodied white wine produced from grapes dating back to antiquity -- they may have been brought to Tuscany by the Etrucans -- it is readily available from any number of local wine shops.
The setting for our last performance was the 12th century Romanesque structure known as Santa Maria Assunta.
Across the street from the church we found a poster on a billboard announcing our performance that evening. It was thoughtful of someone to put these up.
Small poster advertising our performance
We did not have much time to fool around in this place after we arrived -- the night before we were asked to pack our concert clothing with carry-on baggage on the bus since we would be required to change clothes at the church just prior to the performance. Right after changing clothes, we posed for a group picture on the steps in front of this beautiful church and then went inside and prepared for the concert.
This church looked to be the darkest structure in which we performed but it was strikingly familiar. The black and white alternating stone work was reminiscent of the Duomo in Orvieto, although it looked and felt much older. There were many archaic frescoes on the walls depicting Old and New Testament stories and church history -- among them, one by Bennozzo Gozzili painted in 1456 depicting the martyrdom of Saint Sebastian. Sadly, the ravages of time had taken its toll and many of these elegant paintings were so far gone you could not tell what they originally depicted.
Our merry little band just prior to the performance in San Gimignano
Our performance went off with out a hitch and we seemed to be well received by those who were kind enough to attend our performance.
It was rather sad to consider that this was our final performance in Italy -- but we had little time to think about it because we were off quickly to eat another hearty meal at a restaurant a short walking distance away. This time we had a fried fish dish -- a pleasant diversion from all the red meat we had
earlier in the week.
We had a busy couple of days and some of us were exhausted on the road back to Montecatini. But that did not keep some on our bus from singing show tunes and ‘50s rock and roll songs all the way back to our hotel. This would be our last overnight in the Hotel San Marco, the best hotel of this week's
3:30 p.m. Memphis time, Airborn in route from Amsterdam to Memphis via KLM Flight 1654
After some extended discussion it was decided not to chance going to Venice for our last day in country, so we would pack our baggage early and be taken for to Florence for more sight seeing, gelato, cappuccino, pizza, pasta and the ever-present hospitality of the people of this
We disembarked from the buses at the same place up the street from the Accademia. Across the street from the medieval art school, I found a boutique that sold nothing but Ferrari merchandise. In the window, I could not resist a little white and red Tipo 175 Ferrari painted in Grant's Piston Rings livery. It was identified as one that was driven by Johnny Parsons, the winner of the 1949 race, at the 1952 Indianapolis 500. I simply had to have it. My father
attended this race the year before I was born and we have a copy of the official program somewhere in our basement (I was later to learn that this particular car was not actually in the race -- Parsons attempted to qualified the car but was not fast enough to make the field. A similar car painted in the traditional Ferrari red was driven to ninth place in this race and is on permanent display at the Indianapolis 500 museum).
I got separated from the rest of the group for about a half hour, but soon joined up with Karen Yancey and her daughter Jennifer on one of the busy streets. Walking around the streets, we would constantly pass different people from our tour group as we made our way independently around the sidewalks. We would briefly stop, compare notes and then go our separate ways. We decided we would stick together for a while -- Karen and her other daughter
went on a two-week trip to Italy last year. We went to a little café for some pizza and drinks at a family-owned cafe on a little crowded street. Everywhere we went it became pretty obvious that all of Florence was caught up in World Cup soccer fever. Beamed via satellite from South Korea, we learned that the Italian team was playing Croatia -- sort of a regional rivalry I suppose.
Every time something exciting would happen or the ball would turn over you could hear shouts of joy from people watching televisions all over the city. Unfortunately, the Italian team was behind in the game so there was not much to cheer about. I cashed the last of my Euro denominated travelers checks and something quite interesting occurred to me.
Although these cities physically adorned with some of the most outstanding architectural and artistic antiquities on this planet (in 1944 German Field Marshall Albert Kesselring remarked that he never realized what it was like to wage war in a museum until he came to Italy) it does not take long to discover that right beside all these huge churches, enormous marble statues and elegant 500-year old frescoes exists the usual, fast-paced 21st-century economic
activity of travelers checks, exchange rates, ATM wire transfer accounts, e-mail on the internet and other conveyances of wealth and information that makes the world go around. Indeed, I confirmed an internet transaction for one of my clients from an internet café in Florence -- the buyer sent a money order and the item was shipped before I returned home.
The Basilica of Santa Crocea is a commanding structure - while much smaller than the Duomo, the bright, white general facade grabs your eye from quite a distance -- it looks quite modern compared with many of the churches we have seen in Italy. For some reason, however, there were several sets of bleachers erected in the piazza right in front of the church so it is impossible to get an unimpeded view of the front of the place from the other side of the large piazza.
Basicila di Santa Crocea
The other day I made a mental note to go through this place as it has a huge statue of Dante Algeheri in front of the church. I had been reading several books about Dante prior to our trip and was reminded of several conversations I had with Dan Scavone several weeks ago.
Although he was a native of Florence, caught up in the tumultuous political disputes of his day, he was exiled from the city in 1302. He spent the rest of his life in Verona, Venice and later the northern coastal town of Ravenna where he died in 1321.
Nevertheless, as this enormous statue demonstrates, he is today revered as one of the greatest literary minds of the early Renaissance. Inside one finds an overall design of Italian gothic architecture developed by the Franciscan order of the church. Hence, a statue of St. Francis of Assisi can be seen in a holy water baptistry in the back of the church near the door and in three bas relief marble carvings depicting several scenes from the life of St. Francis on the octagonal pulpit attached to one of the huge pillars which hold up the main nave of the structure. One of these carved panels shows the monk receiving the Stigmata from the Holy Spirit.
The gothic alter in the Basilica of the Santa Croce
Throughout this place one finds an incredible collection of frescoes, mosaics and statues -- enormous carved memorials to many world-famous Florentine citizens. The names on the monuments read like a who's who of Italian history -- Galileo (a tomb comprised of several different colors of carved marble by
Giulio Foggini in 1642) , Michelangelo (designed by Giorgio Vassar among renovations performed in 1570), Niccolo Machiavelli (the famous author is remembered by a rather modest white marble affair carved by Innocenzi Sapinazzi in 1787), Gioacchino Rossini (another white marble wall tomb created in 1887 by sculptor Giuseppe Cassioni) and a very controversial Cenotaph to Dante (erected in 1829 by Stefano Ricci) built in an effort to have the famous poet's remains returned to Florence years after his death.
Three of the memorials erected inside the Basilica of the Santa Croce to Dante, Gallileo and Michelangelo
Among the others notable figures memorialized are the famous writer Vittorio Alfieri, Leonardi Bruni, chancellor of the Florentine republic from 1427 to 1444, Florentine patriot Gino Capponi and Marchese Guglielmo Marconi, the inventor of radio.
Walking all around inside this enormous church worked up an appetite. so we went back to Vivio again for a quick lunch -- perhaps the best gelato in all of Italy! We chatted for a moment with the ladies who run this famous café, drank a cappuccino and had a vanilla cream flavored gelato -- truly out of this world!
After our break we proceeded to visit a few shops and I bought a pair of Italian leather gloves for Jacob, several tee shirts for folks back home and a small pocket map of Florence. The soccer game was still going on as we walked through the shops and we could hear the patrons continuing to raise their voices every time something exciting happened. The Italian team ended up losing the game 3-to-2 but they certainly had a wealth of supporters amidst the ancient streets of Florence this very day. I had very much hoped the team would win so I could witness the
jubilation throughout the city -- but it simply was not to be.
Since time was running out I started scoping out some of the sidewalk painters who sell their art everywhere in Italy. I narrowed it down to one particular artist who produced water colors with incredible detail. His name is Suglia Giuseppe and on this day he was selling his paintings on the piazza right in front of the Santa Crocea. I selected three of his better small paintings -- a picture of the Duomo, another of the Basilica Santa Crocea and a third of the Ponte Vecchio across the Arno River from the very spot where I took some pictures day before yesterday.
When I gave him a flag and a Kennedy half dollar he gave me another painting -- a miniature monochrome of another scene of the Duomo and one of his business cards. I now had two images of the same building and will have them framed together to hang on my wall at home -- a constant reminder of our all-too-brief visit in this ancient, magical city of taste, refinement, history and culture.
Once again as so many times before, time ran out and we had to rush back to the bus parking area and bid this beautiful lady farewell. I remember quietly contemplating all we had seen on the several days before as we passed the parks, auto dealerships and residential areas on our way out of town. There was so much to see in all of these cities -- we simply did not have the time. I must return someday -- Lord knows when that can ever happen!
We were in for yet another long drive, this time to Mastre, an industrial town located on the outskirts of Venice. We were still quite uncertain as to whether we could spend any time in Venice this evening because of the high water.
June 8, 2002, Venice, 10:00 p.m., sidewalk café in Piazza San Marco, Caffe Florian
Well, the report from the fire brigade obtained by our trusty Intropa tour guide was totally wrong. The extent of the substantial flooding here in Venice amounts to a shallow pool the size of about two football fields here in the middle of the Piazza San Marco, the largest open space in all of Venice.
The piazza is surrounded on two sides by enormous buildings with arched colonnades. One, the Fabbrica Nuova facing the basilica, was built by Napoleon in the early 1800s. There are smaller columns and arches on the second and third floors of these buildings. At one end the top story is adorned with thirteen life-sized statues mounted in front of a heavily-carved bas relief entablature on the side if the building. At the other end is perhaps the most famous church of Venice, the Basilica of San Marco with its enormous brick campanile (bell tower) nearby. The cathedral was first built around 828, reconstructed after a fire in 976 and rebuilt again over a 30-year period in the 11th century.
It is considered an outstanding example of Byzantine architecture -- too bad we could not have seen inside the enormous, historic structure.
The bell tower, soaring some 300 feet in front of the church, was originally built between 874 and 1150 and again reconstructed after it collapsed in 1902. I took pictures of these structures in what remaining light there was -- it was getting pretty late when we arrived.
I am presently sitting at an outdoor seating area of the Caffe Florian, sipping a cappuccino and listening to an eight-piece string orchestra playing various selections from famous Italian operas
The orchestra at the sidewalk cafe of the Cafe Florian on the Piazza San Marco
including selections from Puccini's Turandot and others which are familiar. This is perhaps another magical moment of this tour that I shall not forget -- these are the experiences for which so many American tourists flock to these cities every year.
The evening is so beautiful -- young lovers can be seen walking hand in hand, publicly embracing and splashing one another with the flood waters of the piazza. Again, my thoughts return to Janene and how much I wish she were here with me to see this romantic setting.
10:45 p.m., Venice near a gondola terminal
The price of my cappuccino was a bit steep -- 11.50 Euro without tip. But with the orchestral performance it was definitely worth it! After I tired a bit of the music, I went off and became a bit lost wandering the dark, narrow streets flanked by boutiques, clothing stores and shops selling the colorful glassware for which Venice is famous.
I am now sitting at a mooring platform for a small gondolier. A few minutes ago I decided to take off my sandals and wade in the flood waters in the middle of the Piazza San Marco, the water was knee deep in places. I figured I may never get back here again -- least wise when the piazza is flooded -- and wanted to be able to say I waded in the water when it was this high.
Deb Ballard among some of our flock in an authentic Venitian gondola
This flooding apparently occurred by some strange confluence of several meteorological and astronomical phenomenon. Much of northern Italy, southern Switzerland and the south of France was inundated with the same torrential downpour we experienced on the way back to Montecatini from Florence on the bus on Thursday evening. But the elevation of the water was also being influenced by tidal forces created by the current position of the moon.
Venice, at the northwestern tip of the Adriatic, is affected by tidal forces and the elevation of the water in the canals is dictated by sea level at any given time. This phenomenon was explained to a group of us by a native Venetian we met on the excursion boat going up the Grand Canal from the bus stop -- he was home from Paris to visit his ailing mother.
I suppose I should go back and describe for a moment how we got here. Upon arriving at the Hotel Albatros in Mastre, Billy Kavanaugh apparently went up to the front desk and asked the attendant if it was possible to get into Venice because of the flooding. They replied that it was perfectly alright to go into town.
When I arrived, I no more than got my bag off of the bus than Karen Yancey rushed up to me and asked "do you want to go to Venice?'' She need not have asked such a stupid question!
I checked into the hotel and immediately rushed across the street to a tobacco store to buy a bus ticket for the trip into the Venice bus terminal from Mastre.
Next door, I bought a cappuccino from a beautiful young Croatian lady tending bar who said her name was Adrian. The café was full of Croatian patrons who were still excited about the Croatian soccer victory over the Italian team earlier in the day. I told her about my friend Joe Nickolick whose family is Serbo-Croatian and that he traveled to her country several years ago.
When I returned to the hotel, it was soon time to gather in the dining room for our last meal together as a group. In the morning we would go our separate ways on two different plane flights to Louisville, St. Louis and elsewhere.
At the end of the meal (for some reason it was not memorable) several chorus members sang a song composed by Kitty Savia about our travels together -- it was very cute and provided a splendid climax to this festive occasion. Here are the lyrics:
Jimmy Gish, Pam Doerter and Barry Whitledge serenading our little group.
Kitty Savia accompanies on her violin.
FAREWELL TO ITALY
(sung to the tune of "My Favorite Things")
Raindrops on tourists and trains that are cancelled;
Bus rides and walking up hill, never downwards.
Shopping and eating, "gelato" we sing,
These are a few of our favorite things.
Friends on the buses and lots of old ruins;
Hans, Arnold, sore feet and eating like bruins.
Brown paper packages tied up with strings,
These are a few of our favorite things.
When Kasimir bites, when Irina stings,
When we're running late,
We simply remember we're in Italy,
And then we don't feel so great.
Singing with mayors and singing at Masses;
Duomos, the David, and vino in glasses.
Rest stops and buying the souvenirs we'll bring,
These are a few of our favorite things.
Cappucino, MORE GELATO, feet that aren't so tough;
We simply remember tomorrow we leave,
So "Ciao", Italy……….
Immediately after dinner, we rushed to the bus stop a short way down the street from the entrance to the hotel. David and Teresa sat near me on the bus and I snapped a picture of the two of them together on the bus.
David and Teresa in route to the Grand Canal of Venice
We were lucky to have Bob and Ramona Ghering along with us. They are veteran travelers who have been to Venice many times and know their way around this region of Italy. From the bus stop located near the grimy docks of industrial Venice (this place reminds me of the region surrounding the New Jersey turnpike for some reason) we boarded the public excursion boats which run every fifteen minutes up and down the Grand Canal of the city.
Cruising on the Grand Canal of Venice
We departed the boat at the appropriate bus stop and began walking to the Piazza San Marco. In route, we encountered a young man selling beautiful oil paintings from a stand at the intersection of two winding streets on the way to the piazza. I purchased a small painting of the octagonal, domed Church of Santa Maria della Salute which is located adjacent to the Grand Canal just a short distance up from the Piazza San Marco. I had taken pictures of this very
structure on the boat ride up the canal but it was getting pretty dark. I now have an original oil painting to always remember this brief visit -- I wish I knew the name of the painter!
We returned to Maestre on a very late bus (perhaps the last of the night) and went up to our rooms for a good night's rest.
June 9, 2002, 11:52 Memphis Time, Airborne aboard KLM flight 625
I have already changed the time on my watch to the time it will be when we land in Memphis.
We left the Hotel Albatross at about 9:30 a.m. for a brief ride to Marco Polo airport outside Maestre.
The telephone in my room last night had a similar problem to virtually all of the other hotel rooms in which we stayed throughout Italy -- I could not seem to get an outside line to call the U.S. I was finally able to get an outside line about 1:50 a.m. Italy time on the phone downstairs with the assistance of the desk clerk.
This morning I had cereal for breakfast and then went out to bid everyone good-bye, Barry and Liz Whitledge are going to take Kitty's violin back to Evansville while she and Al stay remain for the extension with several other people for an additional week in Italy. I am very happy for Teresa, she is staying in Italy another week and has well earned it! David Baker, her husband and his mother are flying to New York while Teresa is going on to Pisa today. I told her to take pictures of the tower for me and be sure it does not fall over.
Before leaving for the airport I gave my last Kennedy half dollar and a flag to Cassemir, our tour guide, thanking him for his help during the tour. He said he was going back to Austria soon and I urged him to visit the United States someday.
When we arrived, Marco Polo airport was quite a zoo -- there must have been over 2,000 people attempting to wind their way through the tiny check in area of this terminal -- it is way too small. After a few minutes I hooked up with Steve Eckman and Mary Sowders who were both wearing black tee-shirts they bought in Florence. I snapped a quick picture of them.
Mary Sowders and Steve Eckman at the airport in Maestre
We made our way to the ticket counter like three football players embarked upon some broken field running as soon as the gate number was posted on the Arrival-Departure monitors. It seems that negotiating this airport terminal is at times a full-contact sport!
Steve and I are returning to Memphis on KLM airways from the Netherlands (he sat behind me on the plane) but Mary is going to stay in Europe for another week on business.
Once we cleared security and checked our baggage we entered the shopping area of the terminal. Mary did some last minute shopping while Steve and I sat and chatted. It was not long before we were aboard a Fokker 9 mid-sized jet for our journey from Maestre to Amsterdam.
After landing in Amsterdam the plane was quite crowded and I was unable to bid Mary farewell -- she went to gather her luggage at the terminal and take the train to another city about 250 miles south of Amsterdam.
The rest of us proceeded to the appropriate terminal gate and boarded a big MD-11 three-engined jet upon which we are traveling to Memphis. It was a bit of a wait at the terminal while we the airline personnel prepared the aircraft for departure.
As expected, I was not looking forward to this return flight as much as I was the flight to Italy. But the plane did prove to be comfortable, the attendants most accommodating and the entertainment selections were appropriate.
In between an action/adventure movie entitled High Crimes and a silly British short of Mr. Bean, the attendants brought us excellent food, snacks and drinks throughout the flight. KLM is a truly class act -- I will remember this if I ever do any future international travel.
I noticed in the on-board magazine that the musical selections on the aircraft's audio headset included a few familiar opera selections by Renee Fleming, my favorite soprano. As I sat on the plane and closed my eyes, I tuned in the beautiful, haunting melody of Marie-Joseph Canteloube De Malaret's Bailero from the Chants d' Auvergne, a song sung by a young girl to a shepherd tending his flock on the other side of a river.
Overcome with emotion, I brushed away a tear from my eye. As I silently pondered all that we had seen and heard in the week just past, I drifted off to sleep.
AAA Spiral Guides
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Eerdman's Handbook to the
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Frommer's Italy 2001
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Funk & Wagnalls Standard Reference
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Rome: Echoes of Imperial Glory
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The Basicila of Santa Crocea
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The Roman Forum
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with preface by Rasalio Jose Cardinal Castillo Lara