When in Rome . . .

Monday we had an enjoyable dinner in a trattoria located on Via degli Avignonesi, a narrow street off Via Boccaccio, another narrow street down the hill from Palazzo Barberini.  The food was great–salad of carciofi and puntarelle, pasta putanesca–and we engaged with a chatty Australian couple at the next table who were dining there for the third night in a row.  I spent the evening looking at a lighted sign hung high in the corner. It was an image of two cherubs holding bunches of grapes and floating (perhaps that is redundant–are cherubs always floating?) merrily over a wine glass while one–hold on, is he doing what I think he is doing?–pees into the glass.  That explains the name:  Pisciapiano Gioia Mia.  Piss Slowly, My Dear.  (Below is a picture of the image on the front window, not the sign, which did not photograph well with the iPhone.)



a Roma, Day Three

After ignoring the elevator and climbing five flights of stairs to our hotel room, which was after visiting five churches and walking from central Rome to San Giovanni in Laterano to Trastevere and back, Judy noted “We don’t go on vacation to relax.”

No.  We don’t.

Random observations:

  • Being a Boston pedestrian is good training for walking in Rome.  Pedestrians here step into oncoming traffic confident they won’t be hit–which is a gamble, given Roman traffic.  No close calls so far.
  • In the week she was here before I arrived Judy asked for directions often.  The answer was always “sempre diretto,” straight ahead, which is a Roman in-joke.  You can never walk straight ahead to get from where you are to where you want to be.  Think of Boston’s most non-linear street layouts–the North End, downtown between Washington Street and the harbor.  Narrow the streets. Multiply by a thousand. Lard with tourists, season with Vespas, and sprinkle with North Africans selling umbrellas, scarves, and toys near every tourist site.
  • You could retire and set up your heirs forever with the wealth contained in any random church.  Mosaics, frescoes, statues, paintings, reliquaries, precious stones, carvings, marble, gilt . . . staggering sumptuousness everywhere.
  • In one of the last rooms on the tour of the Palazzo Doria-Pamphilij you find some Caravaggios hanging alongside a dozens of other paintings lining the walls in multiple rows.  If hung in a museum they would be set apart in a focused display.  The casualness with which you encounter them, after seeing hundreds of other items in the family holdings, is very Roman to me.  The tour’s audio guide by a member of the Doria-Pamphilij family reminds you that real people still live in this Palazzo–although not as part of the tour.
  • I’m haunted by the smell of roast chestnuts from vendors around central Rome.

Georgia Teenager Freed

Genarlow Wilson, serving a ten-year prison sentence for engaging in consensual oral sex with a 15 year-old girl at a New Year’s Eve party when he was a 17 year-old high school student, has been freed by the Georgia Supreme Court. The court ruled 4-3 that his sentence constituted cruel and unusual punishment. His mandatory ten-year sentence for aggravated child molestation “horrified” his jury, which did not know the penalty attached to their guilty verdict, and focused considerable attention on the problems inherent in mandatory sentences and in overbroad child-protection laws. Matt Towery, the Georgia legislator who drafted the original bill that formed the basis for the law under which the court convicted Wilson, explains that the “legislation would never had impacted Genarlow Wilson had it passed into law as it was originally written.” Towery’s draft bill was merged with another that raised the age of consent in Georgia from 14 to 16, turning Wilson’s consensual partner into a child victim. The revised bill included a “Romeo and Juliet” provision that treated consensual sex between a 14 or 15 year-old victim and a defendant who was not more than three years older as a misdemeanor, but this provision did not apply to oral sex. Put such a law in the hands of a zealous “law and order” prosecutor incapable of looking past the letter of the law and this is the result.

The Undead

Like Cool Hand Luke rising from the ground each time Dragline knocked him on his ass or like the living dead from the George Romero movies, Allofmp3.com refuses to submit, popping up after each execution with an amnesiac’s disregard for its back story. See None of MP3.com, AllofMP3.com Lives Yet, and AllofMP3.com–Is That All You’ve Got? This story reports that Russia caused the site to be shut down “to end criticism from the United States that Russia was failing to clamp down on music and video piracy.” By the time the press ran the story Media Services, the company behind AllofMP3.com, had opened a new site named mp3Sparks.com that it claims is legal under Russian law. Since the arguments for the new site’s legality echo those used to support Allofmp3.com we can expect this saga to continue. Frustrating, I’m sure, for parties on both sides of the issues but a boon to a professor of Internet law, this story captures the nailing-a-blob-of-mercury nature of cross-border Internet regulation.

Roman Holiday

Instead of recapping the last week in Rome, here is a sums-it-all-up Sistine Chapel story. One day we visited St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museums. Everything about St. Peter’s is beyond human scale: its physical dimensions, its luxurious details, its place in history. The collection in the Vatican museums is also lush, the Roman Catholic Church having acquired a staggering number of tchotchkes. Our visit ended with the Sistine Chapel and Michelangelo’s frescoes in all of their restored glory. There were probably 500 visitors in the room, everyone craning their necks to stare at the high ceilings and walls. Entering the Chapel one sees International signs advising visitors not to sit on the steps, speak, or engage in other disrespectful behavior. Near the altar and The Last Judgment stood a circle of six guards talking, laughing, gesticulating, and completely ignoring everyone else in the room–except that every few minutes one would turn, shush the crowd, and yell “no photos!” After this admonishment he turned back to yak with his pals. After a brief period of relative quiet the crowd would continue as before, talking, pointing, and shooting flash pictures. After a half-dozen flashes another guard would lift his head from the conversation, yell “shush!”, and shout “no photos!” We were also treated to a multiple-language announcement instructing us not to take photos or talk. The lapsed catholic in me could still imagine eternal damnation for ruining the Sistine frescoes so I stayed flash and photo free, but it is no surprise that many tourists ignore the rule. Everywhere else throughout St. Peter’s and the Vatican Museums photo flashes are as common as lightning bugs on a hot summer night. The obvious way to enforce the no-flash no-loud-talking rules effectively would be to deploy the guards to the corners of the Sistine Chapel. Instead they hang in a knot and act like middle-school boys on lunch break.

The guards do their jobs by paying lip-service to enforcement; the tourists observe the rules by paying lip-service to obedience. Benign chaos. That’s Roma.