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UNCLE JACK'S WEBLOG
Friday, March 31, 2006
Sunrise and Sandbags, March 31

Uncle Jack finally got back to the beach in his own neighborhood this morning after ten days of camping out on James Street. He is pleased to report that the stretch from the Comfort Inn South to the Outer Banks Pier, his usual promenade, has never looked better.


Except for a couple of places where buildings have been anchored by huge sandbags for years and are now encroaching, the beach is wide and flat and clean as a whistle.


Traces of last year’s trucked-in berm are still visible in places but the bulk of the Currituck County sand seems to have spread itself out over the natural beach or has been carried away completely by wave action over the winter. It’s hard to tell which. He walked about a mile up the beach this morning and did not see a single sandpiper or gull working the surf’s edge as he did at the 19 mile post yesterday. He hopes that is a temporary aberration.


Uncle Jack was not amused by a story in the Coastland Times yesterday reporting on the recent Coastal Resources Commission meeting in KDH. This paragraph was particularly distressing: “Members of the Commission and council spent the afternoon of Wednesday, March 22, looking at sandbags. After seeing first-hand evidence in South Nags Head the council raised the questions why do we have them and do we have to have them.”


The answers, of course, are that we have sandbags because the Coastal Resources Commission has allowed them. There was a time 25 years ago when the CRC took a firm and wise stand against hardened structures of any kind on the beach, citing the disastrous experience of New Jersey and other northern states with barriers that destroyed beaches while protecting buildings.


Over the years the CRC’s regulations forbidding hardened structures have been weakened by exceptions allowing the “temporary” placement of sandbags in front of threatened buildings to give owners time to move them. The result of this largesse can be plainly seen in South Nags Head and elsewhere up and down the beach. The “temporary” sandbags have become permanent, buildings protected by them are now encroaching to the point where there is little or no beach left in front of them and the result is an unsightly mess that could have been avoided if the CRC had stood firm and enforced its own sensible regulations. We are New Jersey all over again.


There is more about this in the archives (see Uncle Jack’s web log for May 12, 2005 in particular) if you aren’t disgusted enough already.






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You won't see this picture in the Visitors Bureau advertising, that's for sure.

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These must be some of those "temporary" sandbags they talk about. They were in place so long they wore out and had to be replaced. Lovely to look at and easy to trip over, especially when they're under water.

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Can anybody think of a way to "renourish" this section of the beach without dumping dredge spoil on it?

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Almost forgot about the sunrise this morning. It was right pretty as you can see.

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The jet plane flew into the picture again this morning, right on time.

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Looks like another splendid day on the Outer Banks. Hope it will be the same wherever you are.

posted by Uncle Jack at 7:51 AM

Comments [8]



Thursday, March 30, 2006
Sonag Sunrise Thursday March 30

The penultimate dawn of March 2006 was an almost exact repetition of yesterday’s but worth getting up for anyway. The beach is flat and hard and eminently walkable and once again there is little or no wind. Looks like another spectacularly lovely day coming up for the Outer Banks. Great day for bulldozing and filling sandbags and all the other fun things a person can do on the beach at this time of year.



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Ten minutes before sunrise.

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On time as usual.

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Looks a lot like yesterday.

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Uncle Jack was not completely alone on the beach this morning.

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In fact there was quite a crowd.

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This jet appears to be a regular every morning at about 5:45, heading north.

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This house at about the 19 mile post seems to get a little farther out on the public beach every year. It sits way out in front of the so-called "first line of vegetation" and the new berm is behind it.

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City slickers who have never seen a septic tank can get an eyeful here. It's right out on the beach where everybody see it. Very educational.

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Have a nice day.

posted by Uncle Jack at 9:15 AM

Comments [9]



Wednesday, March 29, 2006
Sonag Sunrise Wednesday March 29

What little rain we had yesterday came and went during the night and this morning dawned clear and bright, just like Tuesday but with fewer clouds for the sun to play with at dawn. The sea has calmed considerably but every once in a while a set of shapely combers rolls in to delight the eye and ear. It’s warmer this morning with no perceptible wind so it looks like a perfect day for beach walking or just about anything else a person can do out of doors on the Outer Banks.


Now get back to work before the boss catches you staring at the sunrise.



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5:40 a.m. Ten minutes before actual sunrise.

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Waiting for Sam and Omie's to open.

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Outer Banks pier seems to have come through the winter with no further damage.

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5:50 a.m. Right on time as usual. You could almost set your watch by the sunrise.

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No comment required.

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If you didn't like the last waves how about these?

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This is as artistic as Uncle Jack gets.

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Wednesday is off to a great start. (In South Nags Head anyway).

posted by Uncle Jack at 8:43 AM

Comments [4]



Tuesday, March 28, 2006
Sonag Sunrise-Tuesday March 28

A lovely sunrise this morning complete with numerous jet contrails. All this loveliness is supposed to give way to rain this afternoon and evening but the rest of the week sounds very promising. Enjoy the pictures.



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5:50 am

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Looking north from James Street toward the Outer Banks pier.

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Looking south from James Street. Not a creature was stirring....

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Except for this bunch.

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Right on time.

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Pretty, no?

posted by Uncle Jack at 8:27 AM

Comments [8]



Monday, March 27, 2006
Sunrise in Sonag March 27

What a pleasure it was to finally get to the beach at sunrise this morning for the first time in over three months. As South Nags Head sunrises go this one was not outstanding but it looked mighty good to Uncle Jack anyway. It’s still rather chilly (44 F at 5:45) so out of deference to his still dicey respiratory system he didn’t stay outside long. He hopes to do some beach exploration if it warms up enough later in the day.


He did check out Surfside Drive briefly yesterday and found some interesting new developments. A sturdy looking new sandbag wall has been built, apparently at private expense, just north of where the derelict house was torn down a few months ago. This has enabled the owners of another condemned house immediately to the north to rebuild a driveway that washed away a couple of years ago and also to restore the septic system.


For the moment at least this house looks like it has gotten a new lease on life.


The new sandbag wall is placed at an angle so that in a storm the incoming waves will be directed toward a gap in the existing dune/sandbag system protecting what is left of Surfside Drive. This will give Mother Nature an interesting new way to wreak havoc in that area which has already been subject to hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of futile manipulations of sand and sandbags over the past few years. Stay tuned for further developments.


 



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5:55 a.m.

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Two minutes later.

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The dawn of what promises to be a bright, sunny, chilly day on the Outer Banks. Wish you were here?

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The Myth of Sisyphus is due to be re-enacted many times in South Nags Head as soon as the ocean calms down enough for the bulldozers to find a bit of sand to push.

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The surf has been gorgeous for the past few days. Big rollers with their tops blown off by offshore winds.

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The handsome new sandbag wall at Surfside Drive.

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It should serve nicely to channel incoming waves onto what is left of Surfside Drive.

posted by Uncle Jack at 8:49 AM

Comments [11]



Saturday, March 25, 2006
Almost home

Just a quickie to let readers know that Uncle Jack and Mrs. U.J. are safely home in Nags Head, having arrived last Tuesday in the midst of a full gale. They are presently camping out in South Nags Head in a house with no internet connection and they both have colds which have caused them to limit their excursions out into the rain and wind. Hence no web log entries and no sunrise pictures since they got home.


They should be ready to rock and roll again by Monday and back in their own house with its newly installed heating system by the end of the week. It’s wonderful to be back on the Outer Banks in spite of the weather and the other minor inconveniences. He has just finished reading a couple of books about New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and he realizes how very little he has to complain about compared to the victims of that disaster. Regards to all and look for another entry early next week, hopefully with a picture of a glorious sunrise attached..


posted by Uncle Jack at 12:06 PM

Comments [31]



Friday, March 17, 2006
Last day in Rome.

Our last full day in Rome turned out to be the loveliest weatherwise since we arrived four weeks ago. We decided that the huge park known as the Villa Borghese was the place to be on a day like this and we found that a lot of people agreed with us. The tourists all headed for the art gallery which we had visited a couple of weeks ago while we wandered around the park soaking up rays and scenery in the company of happy Romans.


It was a delightful way to spend our last day in the Eternal City which we will leave somewhat reluctantly now that it looks like spring has sprung. We comfort ourselves with the thought that the same thing is happening on the Outer Banks to which we will happily return in the middle of next week.


Once again we are sorry to miss that greatest of all St. Patrick’s Day extravaganzas---Kelly’s annual parade. Rome is not exactly crowded with expatriate Irishmen so we expect that the celebrations here today will be somewhat muted. In any case we do wish everyone who cares a very happy St. Patrick’s Day.


This will probably be Uncle Jack’s last web log entry until we get back to Nags Head next week which he hopes will feature pictures of the sun rising out of the sea in South Nags Head. In the meantime “Ciao” from Roma.


P.S. This is part of a doubleheader. Scroll down for a visit to the Basilica of St. John in Lateran.



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Cherry blossoms in the Borghese---just a small sample.

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One of the many fountains scattered throughout the park.

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A copy of an ancient Greek temple. This one is only a few hundred years old. This small lake is in the middle of the park.

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This diminutive copy of an old Roman arch in the Forum stands near the lake.

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One of the many elegant gardens in the Borghese.

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Tourist sits at the feet of the great poet Goethe who lived for a while in the Borghese courtesy of the Borghese family.

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Mayor Fiorello Laguardia of New York City is remembered in Rome by this avenue which runs through the Borghese.

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A section of the ancient Aurelian Wall around Rome remains intact after 2000 years in the Piazza de Brasile near the entrance to the Borghese.

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Leftover from yesterday's visit to St. John in Lateran. (See weblog below). A memorial to four freed slaves who went on to do great things in ancient Rome. About 2000 years old.

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Another of the magnificent chapels in St. John in Lateran. Can't remember which pope paid for this.

posted by Uncle Jack at 10:48 AM

Comments [5]



Friday, March 17, 2006
Basilica of St. John in Lateran

The Basilica of St. John in Lateran is second only to St. Peter’s in both importance and magnificence. Until the middle ages it was the main Catholic church and the Lateran Palace was the pope’s residence.


While St. Peter’s in Vatican City has eclipsed it as a tourist attraction it remains the largest and most beautiful church within the old Roman walls. We spent a rainy Thursday morning in “San Giovanni” as it is called here wandering around with the Elph and some of the results are shown below.



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Center of St. John's looking toward the altar.

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Frescoes in one of the larger side chapels.

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One of twelve large marble statues of the apostles. This is Simon Peter.

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Tourist poses with massive bronze doors which were originally in the Roman Curia in the Forum.

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Part of the amazing marble floor which has a three-dimensional quality that is a little disorienting at first.

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The chapel of the Corsini family, at least one member of which was a pope centuries ago.

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Ornate canopy over the main altar. The heads of both St. Peter and St. Paul are preserved in this canopy according to legend.

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View of the 15th century cloister. The most beautiful cloister we have ever seen.

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The composer Palestrina was the music master here for many years. These are pages of music written in his own hand.

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This fragment of the Aqueduct of Nero which served his palace on the Palatine is across the street from St. John's. Imagine having a 2000 year old acqueduct as part of your house.

posted by Uncle Jack at 10:45 AM

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Thursday, March 16, 2006
The Baths of Caracalla

In a city of spectacular archaeological sites the Baths of Caracalla stand out with a magnificence matched by few others. 9000 slaves labored for five years to construct this enormous complex which could accommodate 1600 bathers at one time. Today it is one of Rome’s loveliest parks where visitors can wander among the colossal ruins and enjoy green grass, lovely trees and tranquility in the midst of the bustling city. We spent most of sunny Wednesday the 15th there before repairing to Giolitti near the Pantheon for well-earned gelato. Giolitti has been serving what many critics say is the best ice cream in Rome for over 100 years at the same location.


The Baths were completed for the Emperor Caracalla in the year 271 A.D. but lasted “only” 300 years before invading armies ruined it. Many centuries later, like the Colosseum, it was used as a source of building materials for some of Rome’s major palazzos such as those of the Farnese family. The huge pine cone which stands in one of the Vatican courtyards (see picture in a previous web log) came from a fountain which once graced the Baths of Caracalla along with over a hundred sculptures which were dispersed to other locations. According to all accounts Caracalla was an extremely cruel and hated Emperor who, like so many others, was assassinated.


For many years until the mid-90’s the Rome opera company staged outdoor performances in the Baths at night during the summer. They were discontinued, however, because it was felt that vibrations of the music, such as the Grand March from Aida, were harming the ruins.



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One of the most beautiful and peaceful places in Rome.

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Ditto.

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The place was enormous. Much of it was two stories tall.

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Lots of interior spaces in which to sit in the sun and ruminate upon what the Baths must have been like 1700 years ago in their heyday.

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Large sections of mosaic flooring are still intact.

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Other sections of mosaic flooring have been salvaged and stood on end.

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Ditto

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1700 years old and you can still walk on it. There's that mysterious tourist again. We nearly had the place to ourselves.

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Arches supported the upper floor.

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Gelato (half pistachio, half chocolate) at Giolitti. The perfect end of a perfect day.

posted by Uncle Jack at 10:55 AM

Comments [4]



Wednesday, March 15, 2006
Vatican II

More pictures from the Vatican Museum.


We visited the ruins of the Baths of Caracalla today but pictures will have to wait until tomorrow.  We're pooped.



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We walked down this hallway after entering the museum on the way to the Sistine Chapel. It must be at least 300 yards long and filled with antiquities including a huge hand-drawn map by Verazzano (sp) dated 1505.

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Another of Raphael's huge frescoes, this one an account of the miraculous extinguishing of a fire at the Vatican by one of the popes.

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Yet another of a battle scene. You have to see them to believe them.

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Part of the gardens in back of the museum. They are very extensive and beautifully landscaped.

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One of the most exquisite pieces of stained glass we have ever seen. Can't recall who did it. The child's all-knowing expression is phenomenal.

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Ubiquitous tourist poses in front of the great pinecone which was once part of an immense Roman fountain at the Baths of Caracalla which we visited today.

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The Laocoon. Fascinating ancient sculpture rediscovered after being buried for centuries. Well worth a google.

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A 3000 year old mummy, part of the Vatican's enormous collection of Egyptian treasures.

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Another Egyptian gem from many centuries B.C. but perfectly intact.

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That tourist again on her way out of the museum via the incredible circular staircase. After four hours of trudging around we were happy to be going downhill.

posted by Uncle Jack at 12:26 PM

Comments [4]



Tuesday, March 14, 2006
Sistine Chapel

Uncle Jack and Mrs. U.J. returned to the Vatican Museum this morning at 8:10 and were pleased to find that the line for the ticket office was only about a hundred yards long compared to a mile yesterday. They had to wait only a half hour before the museum opened and they were among the first to reach the Sistine Chapel which is about a 20 minute walk from the entrance. They congratulated themselves later when they had to pass through the chapel again to get to the exit and found it so jammed that it was all but impossible for anyone to appreciate the many wonders this most beautiful of all rooms contains.


After spending an hour in the Sistine Chapel they spent four more wandering through the miles of incredible rooms and corridors that make up the Vatican Museum . Uncle Jack hastens to repudiate everything he has ever said about the unmatchable magnificence of other such institutions he has visited. The Vatican Museum is so far superior to anything he has previously experienced that he is literally rendered speechless with amazement.


His Canon Elph nearly overheated several times in the course of the day and the battery gave out at one point but he popped in the spare and kept shooting until the memory card could take no more. The pictures taken in the Sistine Chapel were not as good as he had hoped but considering that the room is kept dimly lit to protect the priceless frescoes they didn‘t turn out too badly.


All the images below are from the Sistine Chapel except for the last three Raphaels. His next web log will contain shots from other parts of the museum including some more of Raphael’s incredible frescoes, a few of the best sculptures and a miscellany of other works from the highly eclectic collection that several centuries of art-buying popes have put together in this fantastic place.



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Part of Michelangelo's "Judgement Day" which takes up one whole end wall of the chapel. It contains some of the most horrifying vignettes Uncle Jack has ever seen outside of a Steven Spielberg movie.

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Part of the incredible ceiling which nearly did Michelangelo in after years of working on his back. God creating Adam, perhaps the most famous vignette, is at the bottom.

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Another view of the ceiling. The bottom vignette shows God creating the sun and the moon.

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A close-up of the sun and moon. The figure on the left seems to be providing the "moon". Does anybody know if this might have been a joke on Michelangelo's part?

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Christ's baptism. One of the large wall paintings in the chapel not by Michelangelo. If Uncle Jack's memory serves it's by Perugino but he could be wrong. Anybody?

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From the ceiling the top picture is of Eve receiving the apple from a snake with a woman's head (?) and on the right Adam and Eve being expelled from Eden.

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Another view of Michelangelo's "Judgement Day". Had he been the pope John Ashcroft would surely have turned this down or painted over it.

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Lower left corner of Raphael's "The School of Athens" which shows many of the great Greek philosophers, artists and writers, e.g. Plato, Socrates, Euclid, etc. Probably his most famous fresco.

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Wider view of the "School". Plato and Socrates are standing together at the top center. Diogenes is sprawled on the steps.

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The lower right corner of the "School". The gent in the black cap peering out is Raphael who could not resist a joke.

posted by Uncle Jack at 1:53 PM

Comments [10]



Monday, March 13, 2006
Shots in the 'hood

Last Saturday started with a bang---several bangs actually---when a thunderstorm passed over at 6:15 accompanied by rain which stopped by 10 a.m. It never developed into a day to inspire heavy tourism so we settled for a short walk around the neighborhood, getting better acquainted with some of the remarkable attractions we missed when we first arrived. The “Bocca della Verita” in the St. Mary in Cosmedin church nearby, for example, brings hundreds of tourists to our neighborhood every day to be photographed putting their hands into the “mouth of truth” as shown in the pictures below. Legend has it that if you do not have truth in your heart when you insert your hand you are likely to lose some fingers. Skeptics believe the “mouth of truth” is actually an ancient Roman manhole cover.


The church of Saint Mary in Cosmedin contains some of the most spectacular mosaics of any church in Rome but unfortunately it is closed for restoration during the entire time of our visit. The picture below is of one small sample which hangs in the gift shop. Another good reason to come back to Rome.


We went back to the Vatican this morning planning to visit the museums and the Sistine Chapel but by the time we got there at 9:30 a.m. the line of people waiting to buy tickets was a half-mile long so we decided to come back earlier tomorrow and try again.


The number of tourists in town has definitely increased substantially from when we first arrived three weeks ago. Presumably the same thing is happening on the Outer Banks. It's hard to believe we are down to our last four days in Rome.



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The "Bocca della Verita" or "Mouth of Truth".

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A tour group made up of giggly Japanese teen-agers was here this morning taking photos of each other. They had a ball.

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This lovely mosaic is about 500 years old.

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The yellow building is our apartment house, the Palazzo del Velabro. The square was kept clear of cars all day for a demonstration that was held on Saturday evening. We don't know what it was all about but it was loud.

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This building is part old Roman, part Renaissance and part modern. It seems appropriate that it should house a society for the study of the history of architecture, which it does. It's a block from our apartment.

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This church also spans many centuries. The facade is only 400 years old but parts of it go back 400 A.D. On Saturday the Mexican community of Rome was celebrating a special day there.

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Ancient St. George church next door to our apartment hosts over 200 weddings a year. This one and three others took place on Saturday.

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The bride arrived in this antique Rolls-Royce which was no doubt hired for the occasion.

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Another view for Rolls lovers. (Uncle Jack wouldn't trade it for his Mini, though).

posted by Uncle Jack at 10:54 AM

Comments [4]



Sunday, March 12, 2006
Sunday at St. Peter's

For an old lapsed Lutheran like Uncle Jack this has been quite a day. Sunday morning dawned bright and sunny so we decided to take in the Sabbath festivities at St. Peter’s Basilica, the largest and surely the most beautiful church in all of Christendom. St. Peter’s is truly a feast for the eyes and even for a non-believer the ceremony of the mass was an event of singular beauty the likes of which he never expects to experience again.


He took so many pictures that he decided to make this a doubleheader. Scroll down to the next entry if you would like to see more. As you will see we were not alone at St. Peter’s this morning.



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The facade of St. Peter's, designed by Michelangelo.

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The tour group line waiting to go through security which is just like an airport set-up. Individuals like U.J. and Mrs. U.J. have a much shorter wait.

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Our first breathtaking glimpse of the interior. It goes on and on like this.

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Michelangelo designed the dome, too. Sometime this week we will visit the Sistine Chapel where he nearly killed himself painting the ceiling.

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The pope's altar designed by Bernini. Only the pope may say mass at this altar which is directly over St. Peter's tomb.

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Tourist poses with bronze statue of St. Peter himself.

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Asthmatic old Uncle Jack managed to survive this procession of cardinals and bishops on the way to the mass.

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The mass, which lasted about an hour, was a ceremony of great beauty and dignity.

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Cardinals recessing (without incense)after mass.

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At noon the pope appeared at a window overlooking the square and spoke a few words to the crowd assemble below.

posted by Uncle Jack at 11:29 AM

Comments [5]



Sunday, March 12, 2006
St. Peter's Part II
Enjoy.


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A couple of Swiss Guards. They really are Swiss and the design of their uniforms has a fascinating story. Worth a google.

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The pope spoke from the window with the velvet hanging promptly at noon to the assembled throng shown in an earlier picture.

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After the mass there was a baptism ceremony for lots of little ones.

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One of the side chapels bathed in sunlight. It was a glorious morning inside and outside the church.

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The 17th century artist Bernini had much to do with the interior design of St. Peter's. This was his last work.

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Another interior view. The church is gigantic---over 600 feet long and every inch decorated to the hilt.

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Older viewers may remember Pius XII who was pope when Uncle Jack was a kid. This golden statue is complete with his signature round wire-rimmed spectacles.

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Michelangelo's magnificent "Pieta" now protected by a plastic enclosure. A deranged man attacked it with a hammer back in the 70's if Uncle Jack remembers correctly.

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Part of one of Bernini's massive colonnades which form two sides of St. Peter's Square.

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10:30 mass at St. Peter's. Pilgrims travel from all over the world to be here on a Sunday morning.

posted by Uncle Jack at 11:01 AM

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Friday, March 10, 2006
The Spanish Steps

Except for St. Peter’s Church and the Vatican the Piazza Spagna is probably the number one tourist destination in all of Rome, especially for Americans and Brits who have been congregating in the area of the Spanish Steps for centuries. Poets, artists and musicians have traditionally been drawn to the area and today so were Uncle Jack and Mrs. U.J. We not only climbed the Spanish Steps which is no small undertaking for young people much less senior citizens but we also visited the delightful Keats-Shelley Memorial House in which Keats breathed his last in 1821, had lunch in the Caffé Greco which has been a hang-out for folks like Keats, Shelley, Byron, Goethe, Liszt, Wagner and Bizet since 1760, and enjoyed only our second gelato since coming to Rome three weeks ago. There is something about a warm, sunny day in Rome that requires the ingestion of the finest ice cream on the planet and we were happy to succumb to temptation.



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The Spanish Steps looking up from the Piazza Spagna. Keats house is on the right.

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Looking down from the top of the steps to the piazza which is all torn up at the moment. After paving is completed next month it will become a pedestrian-only space. Huzzah.

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Scholarly tourist studies informational material in the Keats-Shelley house. It's a small museum but very well done.

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The room Keats lived in for a couple of months in 1821-22 before he died at 25 of consumption.

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This is where you would expect to find a McDonald's if there was one. At least it's toned down.

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Bernini's 17th century fountain in the form of a sinking boat as seen from Keats's window. It must have amused him to some extent in his final days.

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The Via Condotti nearby is Rome's major upscale shopping street with the likes of Prada, Ferragamo, et.al. This shop doesn't try to fool anybody.

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The charming 245 year old Caffe Greco where we lunched on sandwiches and tea.

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A better view of Bernini's joke, the sinking boat fountain.

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Babington's Tea Room, a hang-out for English ex-pats and tourists for over 100 years.

posted by Uncle Jack at 12:57 PM

Comments [3]



Thursday, March 9, 2006
Castel Sant'Angelo

The Castel Sant’ Angelo, our target for today, is one of Rome’s most unusual buildings. It started out in 147 A.D. as the Emperor Hadrian’s mausoleum and has metamorphosed over centuries into, at various times, a fort, a residence for the Popes during troubled times, and a prison. It is definitely not a handsome building but it has a commanding presence and the views of the city from the upper reaches are spectacular in all directions. There are no “ascensores” or lifts for tourists so visiting Castel Sant’Angelo is about as physically demanding as anything we have tackled so far. Uncle Jack’s aging knees may never recover but the view from the top was worth the effort.



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This is one scary looking place. Most mausoleums are we guess.

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We climbed at least ten flights of these plus a circular ramp to get to the Terrace on top.

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This marble statue of the Archangel Michael stood atop the Castel for many centuries before being replaced.

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This magnificent bronze replaced it in the 18th century and is holding up well with the assistance of guy wires. It gets windy up here sometimes.

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A leftover from the Middle Ages---a device for launching marble missiles, stacks of which are still on hand in case the power goes out.

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These signs were everywhere. The early Popes must have been fairly short people. Randy Newman would have liked that.

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A view down the Tiber from the Terrace of the Castel.

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A view across the city toward the Colosseum and Forum.

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View of St. Peter's and the Vatican from the Terrace.

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Angels guard the end of the bridge leading to Castel Sant'Angelo and keep an eye on the many schlock vendors who hang around every tourist spot in Rome.

posted by Uncle Jack at 11:22 AM

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Wednesday, March 8, 2006
Borghese beats all---so far.

The Villa Borghese is Rome’s Central Park and we have been waiting for a day that was warm and sunny enough to permit a leisurely stroll through its woods and gardens followed by a tour of the Museo and Galleria Borghese. Forget everything Uncle Jack has said about the other museums and galleries they have visited in Rome---the Borghese blows them all away.


The park and the palace (which date to the early 17th century) and all the many other buildings and works of art scattered over the vast premises have belonged to the State of Italy since 1901 and the government can be proud of its stewardship of this incredible treasure. The grounds and buildings are beautifully kept and the crowds who come to visit from all over the world are accommodated efficiently and courteously. There were more American tour groups visiting the Villa Borghese this morning than we have seen in all the weeks we have been in Italy and we were proud to note that they were much better behaved than their German counterparts who were also out in force this morning. We shudder to think what it must be like around the Borghese at the height of the tourist season.


Photography is not permitted inside the gallery so Uncle Jack was not able to record any of its many magnificent Caravaggios and Titians and Raphaels in the memory stick of his redoubtable Elph. He did take some pictures of the villa’s exterior and its lovely surroundings which he has attached below. You can be sure that he and Mrs. U.J. will remember this day as long as they live. To spend an hour walking in the heart of Rome without having to dodge a speeding Vespa is one of life’s truly memorable pleasures.




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The Villa Borghese Museum and Gallery from the front.

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And from the rear.

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Part of the sculpture garden behind the building.

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The Viale de Museo Borghese leads up to the gallery from the entrance at the top of the Via Veneto. Pedestrians only.

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This statue of Lord Byron stands near the entrance. He was a guest here along with the likes of Goethe and Raphael who actually lived in a house on the grounds.

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This colossal equestrian statue of King Umberto II is a stone's throw from Byron's.

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One of the elegant gardens that extend out from the sides of the villa. The bushes are covered with plastic because the temperature has gotten down to near freezing at night recently.

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This odd little fountain is showing a few signs of age after 400 years.

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A closeup of the villa's facade with its many statues and friezes. Almost over the top.

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We never did find out what this is but it has Mussolini's name on it so it can't be very old.

posted by Uncle Jack at 11:12 AM

Comments [5]



Tuesday, March 7, 2006
Palazzo Corsini

Tuesday the 7th was another sunny but chilly day, not suitable for extended outdoor activities but perfect for visiting another of Rome‘s great art galleries. We returned to the Palazzo Corsini in Trastevere across the swollen Tiber which we found to be closed when we went there yesterday. The Galleria Corsini houses centuries worth of acquisitions by the Corsini family which, like the Pamphiljs and Farneses, was enormously wealthy and powerful, including numerous Cardinals and a Pope in their number.


Like the Villa Farnesina across the street which we visited yesterday the Palazzo Corsini dates to the early 1500’s and is a gem of Renaissance architecture. The finest architects and artists of the time were employed in its construction and decoration and the eight rooms now devoted to showing the art collection are among the most opulent we have seen anywhere. The elegant building and the entire art collection now belongs to the Italian government and is known as the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica.


The rooms through which we wandered freely, usually with no guard in sight, contain paintings and sculpture by the likes of Caravaggio, del Sarto, Rubens, Guido Reni, Canova, Breughel, Van Dyke and many more of the finest artists of the Renaissance and later periods. We never ceased to be amazed at the casualness with which these treasures are displayed for the enjoyment of ordinary folks for whom the price of admission is as little as two euros or $2.40 cents. As Americans we were not eligible for the special discount available to citizens of the European Union but even so it cost only five bucks to get in, less than the cost of a movie these days. The only bigger cultural bargain we can think of is the fabulous array of galleries and museums in London that are absolutely free to the public.


For a person of Swedish extraction like Uncle Jack one of the more interesting factoids about the Palazzo Corsini is that it was the residence for a time of Queen Christina of Sweden who abdicated her throne and became a Catholic in 1655. During her years in Rome she lived in queenly fashion with the Corsini family. A plaque in the gallery indicates the room in which she died in 1689.


Of lesser importance (at least to Uncle Jack) is the fact that the Palazzo Corsini now houses the Accademia dei Lincei, a learned society founded in 1603, of which Galileo was a member. They celebrated their 400th anniversary a couple of years ago but to the best of Uncle Jack’s knowledge Dan Brown was not invited.



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Part of the elegant gardens of the Palazzo Corsini which backs up to the Janiculum, one of the seven hills of Rome.

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Picture-taking was forbidden inside the gallery. This is a hall of statuary leading up to the entrance with Cleopatra in the distance.

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This is Cleopatra closer up. This room outside the main door of the gallery where we waited for it to open is filled with elegant statues, mostly of figures from Greek mythology.

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This satyr looked like he was having a good time. They often did.

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John Cabot University is just a block from the Palazzo Corsini. Uncle Jack keeps meaning to Google it because he is really curious about what it is.

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He is going to check this organization out, too. Maybe they'll invite him to become a member.

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This is on a side street on the way to the Corsini palace. No indication of who the gent is but Uncle Jack has a hunch he was a poet. Further research is in order.

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The Tiber is running high and fast these days, presumably because of all the rain and melting snow up north. This appears to be part of an ancient bridge from the time of the Caesars.

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We passed this building on the way home today. It's the only one we have seen so far with Mussolini's name on it. It's a government office building from the 1930's.

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Another monument to Il Duce at the extreme left. Now the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization headquarters. Circus Maximus is the green area in the foreground.

posted by Uncle Jack at 10:31 AM

Comments [4]



Monday, March 6, 2006
A bad air day.

Like all large cities Rome lives under a dark cloud of its own making, namely the collected exhaust fumes of hundreds of thousands of internal combustion engines of all kinds----trucks, cars, motor scooters, motorcycles, buses. Unfortunately after 35 years of breathing the pure unadulterated ozone of the Outer Banks Uncle Jack’s lungs can no longer handle prolonged exposure to polluted air and they tend to seal themselves shut in protest. His trusty Ventolin inhaler keeps him going up to a point but inevitably even this miracle of modern medicine loses its potency and he is forced to take a day off, stay inside an air-conditioned building and let his lungs recuperate.


That is what he did on Saturday which is why there were no new pictures for March 3. He is pleased to report that his strategy worked and he is ready to resume piazza-hopping as soon as it stops raining which the weatherman says will be Monday morning. At least he thinks that’s what he said.


While Uncle Jack was lounging about the hotel in the morning Mrs. U.J. (who was born in Pittsburgh with lungs of stainless steel) went forth to the Anglo-American Bookstore near the Piazza Barberini and purchased two books which have made his forced incarceration quite tolerable. The first was Dan Brown’s prequel to The DaVinci Code called Angels and Demons which is essentially the same story except that it is set almost entirely in Rome. The plot is laughably preposterous but the fun in reading it (skimming it actually) lies in following the action as it unfolds in several familiar places in Rome that we have already visited or will visit soon such as the Piazza Navona, the Piazza Barberini, and the Vatican. Judging from his barbaric imagination Brown would have been right at home in the Rome of the Caesars when human beings were forced to slaughter each other for the amusement of the populace. Who needs the Colosseum when you can read Dan Brown, or better yet, watch his sick fantasies unfold in living color in a theater near you.


By far the better book is H.V. Morton’s “A Traveller in Rome” which, even though it was written 50 years ago, is still probably the best introduction to modern Rome that euros can buy. Uncle Jack is barely a third of the way into it but he is ready to pronounce it one of the best books he has ever read on any subject. It’s especially ironic that Morton’s biggest complaint about the Rome of the 1950’s was the way it was being ruined by the various manifestations of the internal combustion engine. He predicted then that the city officials would simply have to ban motorized vehicles from the center of the city if Rome was to remain eternal. A great idea but Unce Jack is not going to try to hold his breath until it happens


                             ***********


Monday was chilly but dry so Uncle Jack and Mrs. U.J. bundled up and hiked upriver about a mile to the Villa Farnesina to see the famous frescoes therein. They crossed the Tiber on the Sisto Bridge from which vehicles are banned (what a joy) into Trastevere, a working-class neighborhood in which rather rundown tenements stand side-by-side with magnificent palazzi like the Farnesina and the Corsini. (The latter is closed on Mondays but the writers of our otherwise estimable guidebook seemed not to be aware of this.)


On the way home we ventured once more into the old Jewish ghetto in search of peanut butter in a modern upscale food market we discovered recently. Our last visit to this neighborhood was on a Saturday when nearly all the shops were closed but everything was up and running today as the pictures suggest.



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This statue of a popular 19th century Roman poet passes the John Ashforth Respectability Test with flying colors.

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Gilding the lily. The Villa Farnesina was built in the year 1508 and is undergoing a bit of much deserved upkeep at the moment.

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The villa contains one of the finest collections of Renaissance frescoes in Rome. This one is by an artist named Sodoma who did several of the larger ones.They all date to around 1510.

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This one is called the "Wedding of Alexander and Roxanne". Looks like Alexander couldn't wait for the actual ceremony.

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This is "The Taming of Bucephalus" also by Sodoma. Picture taking was not permtted in the gallery with the Raphael frescoes but Sodoma's were equally fine in Uncle Jack's estimation.

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All the floors in the Villa Farnesina are done in multi-colored marble like this. Definitely not Home Depot stuff.

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The Palazzo Corsini across the street houses another magnificent art collection which we will visit sometime this week.

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A scene in the "ghetto". Due to current tensions there are lots of Carabinieri patrolling the neighborhood at all times.

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The Porta d'Ottavia in the old Roman wall which goes back to Marcus Aurelius, parts of which are still standing. This was the only way in and out of the ghetto for hundreds of years. It is under repair.

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Another view of the Teatro de Marcello, once an amphitheatre seating thousands, now an apartment house. One of the most unusual buildings in Rome.

posted by Uncle Jack at 11:42 AM

Comments [2]



Friday, March 3, 2006
A Palazzo a day keeps the doctor away.

Today was a little short on sightseeing because we spent half of it laying in supplies of food and wine for the week-end. Most food shops in central Rome are closed on Saturday afternoons and all day on Sunday so foresight is required to avoid starvation. Our major purchase was a chicken---probably one of the few sold in Italy today as the country is in a panic over avian flu and chicken sales are down more than 50% for no reason other than fear of the unknown. The butcher was ecstatic.


We walked to the Palazzo Spada which was listed in our guidebook as having one of the top ten galleries in Rome but it was something of a disappointment. Having already visited most of the others listed in the top ten we are probably a bit jaded but the Spada did have one exceptional piece of work by an artist named Borromini who created a masterpiece of “fool-the-eye” art in the form of a corridor which appears to be at least 30 feet long but in reality is much shorter. It reminded Uncle Jack of the trick rooms he read about when he studied the psychology of perception under Mrs. Stonebreaker. (Or was it in college? He forgets). Anyway it was brilliant and he wishes they would have let him take a picture for his weblog.


We detoured over to see the nearby Palazzo Farnese which is now the French Embassy and therefore not open to the public but it is a grand building to look at nevertheless. Michelangelo had a hand in the design and it shows. It is the biggest palace we have seen so far in Rome, covering an entire square block. The French and Italians are in the midst of a squabble right now over an attempted takeover of a French utility company by an Italian company which might have accounted for the three carloads of carabinieri guarding the entrance.


     These are troubled times.


 




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One of the colorful trams which operate on a few of the wider streets in Rome. They don't spew diesel fumes like the buses but they sure are noisy.

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A typical back street near the Palazzo Spada. Pedestrians have to watch their backs at all times as cars and scooters use these narrow alleyways too.

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The lovely courtyard of the Palazzo Spada which in another time would have been a garden.

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Unfortunately today it is a parking lot like most other courtyards and piazzas in Rome. The internal combustion engine is the curse of modern civilization.

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Luckily the Spada has two courtyards, one of which is a garden in which one of Rome's zillion stray cats has found his lunch.

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This painted curtain conceals a building under renovation facing the Piazza Farnese. We think maybe Ford paid for it.

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The Elph couldn't get back far enough to encompass the whole facade of the Palazzo Farnese but you can probably grasp just how big it is by the cars in front.

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This church specializes in providing Christian burials for the unknown dead. This is typical of the morbid decorations inside and out.

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The back streets of Rome are full of oddities like this fountain on the Via Julia near our apartment.

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And there are archaeological digs going on everywhere. We aren't sure if this was an ancient Roman men's room or not.

posted by Uncle Jack at 11:59 AM

Comments [3]



Thursday, March 2, 2006
Palatine Hill (whew!) & Colosseum

The Palatine Hill and the Colosseum are side by side and constitute one sightseeing trip in themselves---one ticket gets you into both. We have been waiting for a day that was guaranteed to provide sunshine for at least the four or five hours it takes to do justice to both attractions and today was that day.


The Palatine Hill is the site of the oldest known settlements in Rome going back to the Stone Age. It is where Romulus and Remus were raised according to legend and archaeological remains dating to 850 B.C. have been found and are displayed in the Palatine Museum which sits atop some of them.


The Palatine also looks down on the Forum and was the site of some of the most magnificent palazzos ever built in the city by various Roman emperors including Nero, Caligula, Flavius and a couple of the Caesars. It was a great place to live with breathtaking views in all directions and natural air-conditioning in the summer and a short walk to work in the Forum for the hard-working emperors. All that remains are ruins, of course, but what spectacular ruins they are. Uncle Jack’s little Elph wasn’t quite up to capturing this part of what has been called “the grandeur that is Rome” but he has attached a few suggestive samples.


The Colosseum, too, is overwhelming but it was difficult for Uncle Jack and Mrs. U.J. to warm to it, knowing that for five centuries or so it was a killing ground of the most ghastly kind imaginable. Men were forced to fight each other (or wild animals) to the death for the amusement of the Roman populace and their rulers. NFL football is brutal enough but the ancient Romans would have booed the Steelers off the field we’re afraid.


This was definitely one of the most memorable days of our visit to Rome to date. The Palatine Hill is beyond beautiful, the air was so clear that even St. Peter’s far off across the Tiber looked close enough to touch, and it was warm enough in the sun to eat lunch (crackers and gorgonzola cheese) sitting on a bench overlooking Flavio’s arena where footraces were run 2000 years ago. Rome is getting to us.



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There is no escalator to the top of the Palatine Hill. This is only the first of several flights of steps that put poor old Uncle Jack's legs to the test today.

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Part of the beautiful Farnese gardens in the Palatine. Orange trees loaded with fruit are everywhere.

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Part of the Emperor Flavius's magnificent palace. The views from his front porch must have been spectacular.

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More of Flavius's house which covered acres. To paraphrase Mel Brooks, it was nice to be the emperor.

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The pines of Rome are nowhere more beautiful than on the Palatine Hill. Respighi must have gotten some of his inspiration up here when he wrote his tone poem.

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The Arena on the Palatine where many a footrace was run for the amusement of the neighborhood emperors.

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Approaching the Colosseum from the Forum. It appears to be about the size of Three Rivers Stadium and held about 70,000 bloodthirsty fans. Worse than Studio Wrestling

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Inside the Colosseum. One old wreck observes another.

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An unobstructed view of the interior. Lucky for Uncle Jack they installed an elevator last year or he never would have made it to the second level.

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The massive arch of Emperor Constantine (remember Constantinople?) provides an impressive doorway to the Colosseum.

posted by Uncle Jack at 1:11 PM

Comments [3]



Wednesday, March 1, 2006
The Pantheon and Environs

Wednesday March 1 was an exciting day for Uncle Jack because he finally got to see the Pantheon. He had known about the Pantheon for a long time because he spent a few years at the University of Virginia and when you do that you cannot help learning about the Pantheon because it was the building that inspired Thomas Jefferson when he designed his beautiful “Rotunda” which is the central edifice of the old UVa campus. Now that he has seen the Pantheon himself it is easy for him to understand why Jefferson was so smitten with it.


Unlike yesterday today was warm and sunny and it brought out lots of locals and tourists to the Piazza dei Rotonda in front of the Pantheon where we sat in a sunny sidewalk café for an hour while drinking tea and ingesting paninis in preparation for entering the beautiful building. Uncle Jack has been reading a book about Italy by an American named Barbara Grizzuti Harrison who says she wouldn’t mind spending the rest of her life sitting in a café in front of the Pantheon and Uncle Jack can understand that perfectly. (Of course she has probably never experienced a sunrise in South Nags Head so she hasn’t seen everything yet) .


The neighborhood around the Pantheon is a fascinating maze of narrow streets with palazzos and piazzas and ancient churches everywhere. Uncle Jack took a lot of pictures, more than he can fit into one web entry, so he has added some more in a second entry below. Rome fans are invited to scroll down and take a look.



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It has held up pretty well considering it's over 2000 years old.

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Partial view of the interior. There is a hole in the top about 30 feet in diameter which is unglazed. There are holes in the floor to drain off rainwater.

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Raphael's tomb. He shares the building with several kings who should be honored by his proximity.

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The tomb of King Vittorio Emanuele, first king of Italy following the Risorgimento.

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The colorful piazza in front of the Pantheon, a favorite of Romans and tourists alike.

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A piazza is not worth its salt if it doesn't have a fontana. Pigeons love this one because of all its nooks and crannies to roost in.

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We lunched here surrounded by German and Japanese tourists. A delightful spot when the sun is shining as it was today.

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The Pantheon doubles as a church for which this is the altar. Rather simple compared to most churches in the neighborhood.

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Another view of the interior. The dome is supported by the walls which are about 20 feet thick. It is made of poured concrete. Don't ask me how they did it 2000 years ago.

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With this many people in the square on March 1 Uncle Jack can only imagine what it's like in August.

posted by Uncle Jack at 11:36 AM

Comments [6]



Wednesday, March 1, 2006
More Pantheon Pics
These were taken in and near the Pantheon on March 1.


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Store window near the Pantheon. If you're planning to become an archbishop this would be a good place to shop.

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The Pantheon has doubled as a church for centuries. The plastic chairs are a bit jarring in such a grand setting.

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These ugly McDonald's signs are all over central Rome. They are confusing because you think they are directing you to a McStore. Actually they are directing you to an important place, in this case the Piazza dei Rotonda. PR gesture presumably. Yuk.

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Pietro Mascagni stayed in this hotel on the square (the oldest albergo in Rome) when he came here for the first performance of his opera Cavaleria Rusticana in 1890.

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This adorable elephant holding an obelisk on his back stands in a piazza near the Pantheon.

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A close-up. The church in the background contains the remains of St. Catherine of Siena next to which stands a marble statue of Christ by Michelangelo.

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Flower seller passing through the piazza.

posted by Uncle Jack at 11:33 AM

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Uncle Jack lived in Nags Head for 35 years before he moved to Baltimore a couple of years ago. He still has a house in South Nags Head which he and Mrs. U.J. visit every chance they get.
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