Come On Baby Light My (Car On) Fire

Annnnnnnd we’re back!

As you may have noticed, my blog posts have been getting a little less frequent than they used to be. I would take the blame for this fact, but somehow I feel it’s someone else’s fault. I don’t know who, but I swear I’ll find them… which might take me some time, so please be patient if there are no new posts before then.

Since my last entry, there have been some developments that you may have heard about.

On Saturday, the Occupy Wall Street movement made its way to Europe (I guess Wall Street is one of those roads that leads to Rome), and, unlike all the other cities of the world that took to their streets without bottles of gasoline and bricks (boooooring!), Rome went to town on itself.

Pop quiz: Trying to make sure everything in your city gets burnt to ashes. What do you throw at the cops? A) Rocks B) Molotov Cocktails C) Street Signs D) Fire Extinguisher

This isn’t entirely fair, of course, because, of the thousands who came to protest peacefully, it was only a small percentage who were part of the “Black Bloc” of anarchists. Still, the destruction made headlines, so I’m here to let you know that I’m perfectly fine. And, given the fact that no one checked in on me to confirm my survival over the past five days, I’ll just assume you were all killed in the riots. My condolences.

But I’d rather not focus on negative stories such as this, which is why I’ve decided to make this post a sort of “best of” highlight reel of what I’ve seen in Rome these past 2 months. Next week I’ll be going to Barcelona for a few days, followed by Paris, so I thought it would be good to talk up Rome while I still hold it in high regard.

I’ll start with some museums I’ve visited, or, as they’re called in Rome, “people’s houses”:

Palazzo Barberini: Galleria Nazionale D’Arte

Yup, that was somebody’s crash pad back in the day. Specifically, it belonged to the Barberini family of Rome a.k.a. Pope Urban VIII and his kin. It’s right in the city center, near my school, which is probably why he chose the name Pope Urban… wasn’t gonna just get a house in the suburbs, ya know?

Nowadays it’s a museum with three floors of Baroque wonder. You would surely recognize some of the famous works housed here:

La Fornarina by Raphael (or is it?)

So, yeah. You may already know, but some people speculate that Raphael didn’t actually paint this one. Or, at least, didn’t paint it all by himself. I’m not really sure what the conspiracy is. I just like it cuz it reminds me of myself in middle school.

Saint Francis in Prayer by Caravaggio

You probably know this one, too. I didn’t do any research on it, but I would assume that’s St. Francis, and he’s praying… Or something like that.

But my personal favorites of this gallery were not works I had seen prior.

The Rialto Bridge from the South by Canaletto

Seeing it on a computer screen doesn’t do it justice. The works by Canaletto really stood out overall in the gallery to me. I don’t think I’ll succeed in describing why, since I’m not an art historian, and I’m not too wood with gords. But something about his works seemed perfect. They were mostly landscapes of Venice, a beautiful subject for art to begin with, but also the strokes that he used and the colors he chose… I don’t know, kind of makes you enjoy art without feeling like you have to, you know?

Castel Sant’Angelo

This is a landmark that you should already be familiar with. If nothing else, it was in Angels & Demons, right?

This castle is now a major tourist attraction in Rome, but, believe it or not, it actually used to just be a castle. Popes used it for protection back before the Popemobile had bulletproof glass. I’ve been told there are secret underground passages that lead from this to the Vatican, so that the Pope could flee to it in times of danger. But that’s a secret, so don’t tell anyone.

Nowadays it’s a museum, but, I’m not gonna lie, we couldn’t go for a long visit, so we just skipped whatever was there to see and went up for the view (don’t judge me). And, lemme tell ya, the view is really something special!

Ok, so I didn’t bring a camera (stop judging me!). But from the top you can see a complete panorama of all of Rome. It’s also the setting for the final act of Puccini’s Tosca. I’m sure you already know, but that’s the opera where everyone dies. Not before they get to sing a little bit, though.

Museo Nazionale Delle Arti Del XXI Secolo or MAXXI

I heard about this one right before I left for Rome, actually. The Chicago Tribune had a story about overlooked museums, and this one was featured, since most people don’t come to Rome to see 21st century art. I guess I agree, cuz I ended up going alone, but it was still worth mentioning.

The art was good… you know… for being modern. Some of it was actually very good, but, as is always the case with modern art museums, others appeared to be either done by a kindergardener, or just someone who really wants to make you groan and say “Awww, I could have done that!”

One work in particular struck me as interesting. It was thousands and thousands of incense sticks tied into long strings, and hung to look like tall jungle plants. To begin with, I thought it looked cool, but another thing was that it made the entire gallery smell so darn perdy.

But I always get the feeling that modern art has a pretension about it that is hard to get over. Paintings that you find in classical art museums are the kind of works you wish you could have in your own home. Contemporary art, in many cases, is the kind of thing that only looks cool in contemporary art museums. If you were bring it home, you’d probably just have to hang it on your fridge.

But who am I to judge? I don’t have a beret.

Vatican Museum & The Sistine Chapel

K, so I really shouldn’t have to explain this too much. If you’re not familiar with the Sistine Chapel, I doubt you have the reading comprehension to have made it this far.

Ring any bells?

This was not my first visit to the Vatican Museum, so I already knew what to expect.

That’s not a way of putting it down, though. What I mean is that, I knew I was going to enjoy it.

Obviously Michelangelo’s work in the Sistine Chapel is legendary and brilliant, but the museum itself is full of fabulous paintings and sculptures. You probably recognize this, too:

Raphael's painting of Plato and Aristotle

I sure did. So when I saw it, I pointed and yelled: “I know that one!”

But this was another occasion when we didn’t have enough time to see everything. I even noted as we passed through a room that, under most circumstances, I would find it odd that I’m trying to rush through a room full of priceless art without stopping to look. Sorry Matisse! We came to see the IMPORTANT stuff!

So there are some museums for you. Obviously, this doesn’t even scratch the surface of museums the city has to offer. But I still have a month, and I intend on making it to more.

Moving on, I thought I could just share with you some interesting places that exist in the city.


You’re surely aware that Rome is old. This means that a whooooooole lot of people have died here. But not all end up in the same place after they die.

I’m not talking about heaven and hell… I’m referring to the rotting corpses they left behind.

You may have heard of the Cemetery of the Capuchins. The Capuchins were monks, and the cemetery is famous because it’s not a cemetery… It’s a couple of rooms where their remains have been made to look like decorations all around the walls. (I changed my mind, I’ll just take the contemporary art)

This is another location that is very close to my school, so, one afternoon, a few of us decided to go see what all the fuss was about.

Then we vomited.

That's the skeleton of a CHILD on the ceiling!

How beautiful... you sick bastards!

As you walk, room after room, you start to realize that EVERYTHING is made of dead people (I was too scared to check how the bathroom looked). There were even chandeliers made of human jaw bones and vertebrae. You know… the kind of thing that would even make Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs say: “Dude, this place is fucked up!” While Jeffrey Dohmer nods in agreement.

If this wasn’t enough for a Wes Craven bedtime story, there’s even a plaque in one of the rooms that reads something along the lines of: “What you are, we once were. What we are, you will one day be.”

That was our cue to turn around and just go to the Hard Rock Cafe.

On a less morbid note, I’d like to mention another place that I think is pretty interesting. I’ve only gone once, but, if you know how much I love coffee, you won’t be surprised that I’m going to mention a coffee house on my list.

As you can see from the sign, this is the Antico Caffè Greco, established in 1760, Rome’s oldest. Yup, a coffee house older than the United States. I decided to try a cup of coffee here one day, but the place is just a little too swanky for me. I felt like people were giving me condescending looks because I wasn’t in a designer suit, but I just sipped my coffee and went about my own business. To be honest, the coffee was nothing spectacular, but I still think it was worth it to try once.

I would keep going, but there are really too many things to mention about this city to keep going. Like I said, I will be seeing Spain for the first time very soon, then a trip to the wonderful city of Paris. I understand if my photography skills have been disappointing throughout most of my posts, but I’ll try hard to take some good pictures while I’m out and about in Europe.

Until next time….

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