Let’s talk about having a moment

A few months back, I read this blog post about why it’s important for writers to travel. Certainly if a writer is setting a story in a place, he or she should have a good knowledge and understanding of that place if they want to sound like they know what they’re talking about. But more than that, the experience of travel — any experience, really — gives the writer (or any other type of artist) gravitas that can’t be easily faked.

Our first night in Rome, we took a night walk from Piazza Navona to the Pantheon, then by the Parliament building, then to the Trevi Fountain, then to the Spanish Steps. I had a moment between the Pantheon and Parliament.

We turned away from the ancient building to fill our water bottles at the public fountain in the center of the piazza. It was our first taste of the water that we’d seen people drinking and using to wash their hands and faces. Tiny rivers filled the cracks in the cobblestones around the fountain’s drain. The water was cold and as fresh as anything that would come out of a tap back home.

The map told us to head north out of the piazza. The short walk to Parliament took longer than it should have because we stopped to peek into shop windows to make note of things we might want to come buy the next day. The lane narrowed between two restaurants whose patios stretched into the street. As I passed through, diners’ laughter, the twinkle of candles on the tables and the thick aromas of pasta and grilled meat met me from each side.

A short Italian man strolled by, lazily squeezing his accordion, veering toward the patios in hopes that someone would request a song, but acting like he just cruised the neighborhood all the time. I looked up to the stars that winked from their perches in the black sky, then closed my eyes and took a deep breath. The cobblestones under my feet, the music, the food, the cool night air… this is why I came. This is Italy.

I really did stop and take inventory of that moment, and (geek alert!) I totally teared up, too. If I wrote that scene into a story I wouldn’t have to make any of it up, and hopefully it would come across more legit than if I’d never experienced it and was just guessing.

My book has a lot of “inspired by a true story” moments. They come from things that really happened to members of both sides of my family. I hope I’ve given them the gravitas they deserve. And I’m going to pay extra sharp attention to things that happen in the present, big moments and small. Any one of them could be a moment worth writing down.

Italian Photo Explosion 3

Days five and six of my trip to Rome. Day five was a Monday, when everything is closed, so we took a train 45 minutes northeast to a little beach town called Santa Marinella. It was SUCH a good idea. (Props to Michelle.) Perhaps I haven’t explained before that I love, love, love the beach. We got off the train and I just kept taking deep breaths because the air smelled so good. Jessica told me I visibly relaxed. So, it’s official — I belong near the water.

The Italian countryside from the train window.

The first spot we found was a rocky alcove near some private homes.

I love this picture of Michelle and Jessica enjoying the view.

Then we walked around to the public beach. The sand is coarser than the TX beach. And the seaweed looks like strips of tissue paper rather than clumps of weeds.

That water was cold! If I’d brought a suit or a change of clothes, I totally would have jumped in.

Only a few people were out. The little beach bar at the end of the walkway was open, and we enjoyed some gelato before we left.

Sailboat beyond the water break.

We went back to Rome, cleaned up and were in the mood for seafood for dinner, which was delicious. Walking back to the metro, we stumbled across a proper Italian grocery store, which was a comfort to me because whenever I go anywhere I picture myself living in that place and my first priority is finding the grocery store. 🙂 Then we got a little turned around looking for a Sicilian bakery that Michelle wanted to find, but she found it the next morning before Jessica and I woke up:

Cannoli for breakfast!

Statue of Giordano Bruno in Campo di Fiori at the spot where he was burned at the stake for being a heretic. (Earth revolving around the sun? BURN HIM!) The piazza has a farmer’s market in the mornings and is a hopping place to eat and hang out in the evenings.

The market. I really liked this part of Rome, which was also near Piazza Navona and the Pantheon.

Largo di Torre Argentina, with the ruins of four Republican Roman temples and the Theatre of Pompey, where Julius Caesar was killed.

Largo Argentina is also home to a cat sanctuary, and as we ate lunch in the little seating area next to these ruins, we saw several “gatti di Roma” roaming in and around the area. You can even buy “Gatti di Roma” calendars as souvenirs. (I did not.)

This is what almost all the roads and walkways look like. A bunch of people, including us, are eating lunch bought from the grocery store next door.

Despar’s (the grocery store) delivery truck, parked in front of the store’s entrance. Also a general example of Roman parking.

Our last stop of the trip: Galleria Borghese, former estate of Cardinal Borghese nestled in a beautiful garden and home to Bernini sculptures that blew my mind. Unfortunately, no cameras were allowed inside.

The villa faces the park, which was full of tourists and evening joggers.

Villa Borghese is just outside the ancient city walls.

When I go back to Rome (and I will, I will!), I’ll stay in either the Campo di Fiori/Piazza Navona/Pantheon or Borghese/Piazza Barberini/Spanish Steps areas. They are the most beautiful by far. Then I’ll make a reservation to see Galleria Borghese again. Then I’ll want to see all the things I missed on this trip: The Appian Way, catacombs, Trastevere, mausoleums, more of the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill… and I’ll want to do that night walk again. That was lovely. I’d also really love to see Florence, Venice, Verona and just Tuscany in general one day. Italy, I’m nowhere near over you!

Oh yeah, check out my souvenirs:

Venetian glass earrings.

Ceramic wall clock.

This trip was absolutely a dream come true. Once I finish paying for it, I’ll be ready to start planning the next.

Italian Photo Explosion 2

Next up: days three and four of my Roman holiday. (See what I did there?) 😉

First up on day three we went to the Cappuccin Crypt, where there are several rooms ornately decorated with the bones of friars who died between 1528 and 1870. So creepy and weird and awesome. And, sadly, no photos allowed. Here’s the site, which does have photos.

Then we went to the Vatican, and we must have had perfect timing because there was no line to get in. Zero line. Apparently this never happens. Rick Steves wouldn’t believe it.

Cortile della Pigna (courtyard on the Vatican Museum grounds)

View from one of the museum’s windows.

“Laocoon” – a Greek statue that was lost for a thousand years, then unearthed near the Colosseum in 1506.

This Roman river god’s pose inspired Michelangelo’s “Adam” in the Sistine Chapel. (My illegal photo of that ceiling is a couple of posts back.)

The Belvedere Torso, all that’s left of an ancient statue of Hercules. Apparently Michelangelo would touch it for inspiration. This might be my favorite photo of the whole trip. Look how the light hits it!

Mosaics on the floors…

… and I couldn’t stop looking at the ceilings.

Another ceiling.

The ceiling in the Map Gallery.

Vatican City, with St. Peter’s in the background. Michelangelo built that dome.

The staircase to leave.

After lunch and a stop to buy some insoles for my shoes (by this day my feet were hurting, y’all), we rounded the corner to see St. Peter’s Basilica. There is no way any photo could ever do it justice. This church is like the Christianity mother ship.

St. Peter’s Square, the obelisk and the basilica. (Ha! I just noticed the face that kid is making.)

Michelangelo’s “Pieta,” his only signed work. It’s behind bulletproof glass because some nut job tried to deface it back in the ’70s. (Sorry for the dark. The lighter one came out way blurry.)

The altar, under which is the tomb of Peter himself. He came to Rome after Jesus’ death to continue to spread the word. Emperor Nero didn’t like that, so Peter was crucified. His crucifixion site is a little ways left of the altar. This whole place was built around Peter’s resting place. At the time of Peter’s death, it was the site of Nero’s Circus.

Baptismal fountain.

Part of Bernini’s colonnade, topped with 140 statues of saints.

The obelisk, colonnade and, in the back, the papal apartments.

The next day, Sunday, most things were closed, but the Colosseum was open again so that’s where we started.

This whole thing was once covered in marble. When everyone made the old switcheroo to Christianity, they removed the marble to use in St. Peter’s Basilica. Waste not, want not, I guess.

Second level, looking in. That platform shows where the false floor was across the whole thing.

A closer look at the insides. Gladiators, animals and prisoners (criminals and Christians) were held here and then popped up through trap doors in the false floor when it was their turn to fight/die.

One of the interior archways.

One of the exterior archways.

There are a bunch more photos of this, but they all look the same. It started raining so we went back to our apartment for a nap, and then decided to brave the rain and see the Museum of Imperial Forums.

The museum is in Trajan’s Market, which was basically Rome’s shopping mall during the emperor’s day.

Pieces from Trajan’s and other emperors’ forums are positioned to show how they would have looked when they were built.

From the outside you can see the exterior of Trajan’s Market (on the right) and the ruins of his forum (on the left), including a remaining bit of the floor.

More of Trajan’s Forum ruins. Mussolini had that street at the top built and a lot of ancient stuff was ruined in the process, so unfortunately we have to just imagine the way the emperor’s forums (which were all right next to each other) stretched across and all the way down to near the Temple of Venus and Roma.

On a lighter note, we ended almost every night this way. Gelato!

Only two more days to go! Lots of pretty beach pictures coming up. Stay tuned!