Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Love from Italia

Holy Water

Italy is one of those countries where water has great importance. Not very knowledgeable about Catholic practice, I noticed a person dipping her hand into some water at the entrance to the lovely (and cool!) church in Piazza Navone, and then crossing herself. This is one of those European countries where water is pricey. A small bottle of water costs the equivalent of four to five US dollars on the street (the price I paid for a modest hotel here in the early 1970s). And once you have gone and drunk it, you need another half euro or so to pass it back. Or as the Brits say, "spending a penny", which can cost considerably more than that in Italia.I don't know how well the sewage systems here are coping will all the tourists buying and passing their bottled water. Certainly the old city of Florence (remarkable in its beauty) smells everywhere of sewage. And the Tiber doesn't smell like Aprhodite's perfume either (if you want to know her secrets, there'san exhibition at a museum here in Rome). The Tiber wasn't swimworthy way back in 1972 during my first visit here, but I understand that Romans bathed in itas late as the 1950s.

This meandering reminds me of a poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge on the River Rhine:

In Köhln, a town of monks and bones,
And pavements fang'd with murderous stones
And rags, and hags, and hideous wenches ;
I counted two and seventy stenches,All well defined, and several stinks !
Ye Nymphs that reign o'er sewers and sinks,
The river Rhine, it is well known,
Doth wash your city of Cologne ;
But tell me, Nymphs, what power divine
Shall henceforth wash the river Rhine ?

An amazing poem, considering that it was written in the early 1800s, quite a different take on eau-de-cologne, don't you reckon?

Our hotel in Rome overlooks the back of an old church (via Maria something, the base of Via Tritone, quite a nice church on the inside). From the breakfast room on the top floor one can see a bunch of rungs individually stuck into the wall. Apparently the cross at the very top of the church needs maintenance every now and then, or perhaps the shingles on the roof. It's a very long way down, about eight floors of a modern building. Who is the meshugenah who scales that ladder do the fixing? I mention this because I am someone who gets dizzy climbing the first three steps on any ladder. I figure only the most acrobatic and or religious would attempt this feat. One loose rung and the bells have rung.

All this holy talk brings to mind an imperfect Limerick I composed decades ago, and I apologize in advance for its gruesomeness, I assure you it was written in lighthearted jest, and any connection with real people or religions is haphazard.

There once was an eager young pastor
Who fell from the highest Church rafter,
Though his innards diffused
As he splattered the pews
He lived happily ever hereafter

Leaving religion momentarily for another kind of belief, there is the Trevi fountain. Legend has it thatyou will find happiness if you throw a coin into the fountain backwards, etc.etc. Those of you as old or older than me will remember the 1954 movie with the #1 hit song sung by the Four Aces:

Three coins in the fountain
Each one seeking happiness
Thrown by three hopeful lovers
Which one will the fountain bless?

Three hearts in the fountain
Each heart longing for its home
There they lie in the fountain
Somewhere in the heart of Rome
Which one will the fountain bless?
Which one will the fountain bless?
Three coins in the fountain
Through the ripples how they shine
Just one wish will be granted
One heart will wear a valentine
Make it mine!Make it mine!Make it mine!

Right now the fountain is surrounded by a throng of hundreds of hot, coin-flinging tourists passage (I must admit that we did it too, of course). The Italians indeed find another kind of happiness, in the form of millions of coins thrown by us suckers into the fountain every year. I came by early this morning and found a crew sucking the coins into a giant collector (probably invented by Leonardo da Vinci), each catch consisting of some 200 or more kilograms of coins. According to the worker, all the money is donated to the infirm.
I must add, that St. Peter's is a true place of honor, and you can attend the bathrooms there for free. There is an official sign that you are not allowed to tip the lavatory attendants. A laudatory lavatory. Too bad the rest of Italy does not follow this papal policy.

Italian technology

The hotel we are in here in Rome has an elevator that must be from the Roman times. I think it even predates Brutus. It has two sets of doors that have to be manually opened and closed. If you don't close them both properly, it goes to sleep on that floor.
This morning we went to see the Pantheon, the finest standing Roman building. Everything is in place after two thousand years, and they even manage to close those huge doors at night. And what is the legacy of these Romans, who knew how to build aquaducts, and run hot and cold piping through the bathhouses? What has happened to that great tradition of Italian innovation?Where are the modern day Galileos. Apparently not in Italy. True they do have a pasta museum here in Rome, but how high tech can that be? The only up to date technological center I found here was a small emporium selling gadgets, made in Asia, of course.
Modern day Italians are lovely people with some great music, film directors and actors, chic, and who make great pizza and pasta dishes. But it seems to me that technology died here following the Renaissance. Sleep tight, Leonardo.

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