Archive for the 'Italy' Category

Yes, Virginia, it does rain inside the Pantheon.


Ah yes, I’d recognize those white lo-top Chucks anywhere. Like Indiana Jones’ hat, like Michael Jackson’s single glove, where there are white lo-top Chucks, there is a Scott H. Gosnell. Or one of thousands of other 18-24 year old wannabe hipsters living on a budget. But in this case, those shoes, along with the feet inside them, are my own. And that wet floor you’re looking at is none other than the floor of church of Santa Maria ad Martyres, known in vogue as the Pantheon.

Normally there wouldn’t be anything terribly peculiar about a wet floor, at least not peculiar enough to merit taking a picture of it. But this is different, as the source of that water is the sky above. Literally, the sky above. You can see the reflection of the sky, pouring in, along with the rain, through the oculus, a massive hole at the apex of the dome. It’s an idiosyncrasy of the Pantheon, a defining feature of sorts, kind of like what I want my white Chucks to be: a physical synecdoche for what is to be Scott H. Gosnell.

I was first introduced to the Pantheon in elementary school and, as it’s bobbed in and out of my coursework over the years, every appearance has, almost without fail, been accompanied by one stubbornly reoccurring question: “So, uh, when it rains outside, does the inside of the Pantheon get wet?”

Yes, it does.



La città di Dio.

Roma è la città di Dio. Rome is the City of God. And it’s true; mind, body and soul, through and though, it’s a holy city. I might go so far as to argue that the entire città is, in fact, material proof of an omnipotent higher intelligence. To what else can we attribute the inspiration for some of the most breathtaking art and architecture the human race has created than the divine? To what else can we attribute the eternalness of the Eternal City than pure Providence? To what else can we attribute to creation of desperately attractive Italian women than a loving God? Yes my friends, Rome is la città di Dio.

It’s fitting, then, that home for the next few months is a convent. The shot above is looking northwest down the Clivo dei Pubicii (incidentally, the oldest paved road in Rome; bear in mind, here, the Roman definition of “old”). The structure on the left is the main entrance to the convent, which sits on three or four acres of primo Roman real estate (Roberto Benigni, for example, lives in the neighborhood). The nuns are friendly, but contact with them is rather minimal. Most of those three or four acres are cloistered, with access being restricted to the Sisters and their guests, and this seems to be where they spend most of their time.

The accommodations are modest but functional. I’m on the ground floor, and my window faces a wall. It’s a very nice wall, though, a Roman wall, sturdy and well built. Off to the left (out of view in this picture) is a small bathroom/shower. I say bathroom/shower because that’s what it is. It’s a bathroom. And it’s also a shower. It’s a bathroom/shower. There’s a faucet sticking out of the wall and a drain in the middle of the floor. It’s a bathroom/shower. European efficiency.

A couple of lucky people on the third floor have this view. Yes, those are the ruins of the Imperial Palace on the Palatine Hill off in the distance. Not bad.

Every home has its idiosyncrasies, and the convent — not to mention Rome in general — is no different. The bathroom/shower is certainly a major one, and I’m slowly learning how to not flood my room every time I bathe. The walls are paper thin, and the floors are tiled, so every time a group of high-heeled girls walks down the hall on their way in or out for the night, it sounds like a Red Army military parade. Breakfast every morning is coffee, biscuits (endearingly referred to as “nun buns”) and jam. I wouldn’t mind something a bit more hardy, but the lunches have, thus far, been large and delicious, easily making up for the spartan breakfasts.

A three minute walk up the road, and you’re at the Church of Santa Sabina. It was built in the fifth century and, from what I understand, it has been maintained to reflect its original style. The Pope gave Ash Wednesday mass here last year, and I think he’s scheduled to do the same in a week and a half.

The view from the park/former medieval fortress adjacent to the church isn’t bad, either.

Let me close with a short anecdote. Yesterday, while out for a walk, I was stopped by an Italian woman in her car and asked for directions. At least, I think that’s what she was asking me. She was quick to read my befuddled expression, smiled, nodded, and drove off. Thus I was left, feeling a bit guilty that I wasn’t able to help out, but rather proud that I apparently don’t completely wreak of turistico americano.

A funny thing happened on the way to the forum…

Forum Romanum

…I went to school. In a three and a half hour tour of the Capitoline Museum and the Forum Romanum led by my professor, I saw enough ancient art to fill a semester’s worth of PowerPoint presentations back home. The Equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius, the Capitoline Venus, the Arch of Septimus Severus, the ruins of the Basilica of Constantine. I walked on the Via Sacra. It was sort of an out of body experience.

I’m taking five classes: Intro to Italian (Mi chiamo Scott. Io sono venti anni.), Ancient Greek, Roman Literature, Ancient Art, and Early Christian and Medieval Art. Of these, the last three have on-site components; in other words, once a week for we meet for a three or four hour professor-guided tour of the artwork and locations studied in the class, with an occasional cappuccino break. Some of the students aren’t entirely keen on this, but I’m a huge fan. This is what I’d be doing if I wasn’t in class: touring. And because these are professors, we get access to certain sites that we otherwise wouldn’t.

I nailed a couple of questions at the beginning of one of my classes (When did the Roman Empire officially cease to exist? Which part of the famous Etruscan statue of the she-wolf suckling Romulus and Remus is not original?) and, for better or for worse, have been given the glossy (if not ephemeral) tag “that classics major with some answers.” In other words, I need to be Johnny on the Spot with names and dates from now on or risk shaming myself and loosing all entitlement. Truthfully, I’d be embarrassed if I didn’t know these things. How many tens of thousands of dollars have Mom and Dad invested in my education?

Anyway, Rome is still awesome.

Barbarian at the gates.

I’m here.

It’s awesome.

I live on the Aventine Hill in a convent on a street that’s been here since the 3rd century B.C.

I have a room to myself with a private bathroom and shower.

I am a 2 and a half minute walk from the Circus Maximus.

The nuns are friendly.

The Italian directors are awesome.

More to come soon.