Thursday, December 29, 2005

Tourist detraction

Its my last day in Rome, I still have no apostrophes and I could stay here for another five months and still feel like Id only scratched the surface.

Yesterday we went back to the Vatican, because Mum wanted to find the grave of a Czech writer who my uncle loves who died in Rome (I think my family has a grave fetish). We arrived and there was an enormous crowd gathered in St Peters square, as well as huge TV screens and lots of security. And... il Papa! Apparently the pope does a mass every week on Wednesday and we just happened to catch it. I can thus safely report that the Pope is doing well, and looks smashing in red. I was not, however, moved to convert, and no angels appeared to me in the sky, which was kind of disappointing. Ill never get to be a saint.

We then got roped into an English-speaking tour of the Vatican museums, including the Sistine Chapel, given by a very clever English guy (who it later turned out Mum was checking out...!) who was a bit of an art expert. There were also some really nice Australian boys, three brothers, who were on the tour, giving me renewed hope that I like Australians who travel...

The tour was great, if a bit long, and when we finally got to the Sistine Chapel we all knew what to look for and to admire. But if every square inch of the building was was covered in paint, every square inch of the floor was covered with tourists. It reinforced my feeling that international tourism has a dreadful effect on what it seeks to share, and support. It changes spaces so dramatically they are almost unrecognisable- there was nothing holy about the chapel to me. It was simply an art gallery filled with crowds. Although the artwork was incredible, I think I would feel more connection with it looking at a good reproduction in the peace of a library.

In fact so irreligous was I feeling that I couldnt help but notice what the guide has jokingly referred to earlier was very true- the picutre of original sin north of centre of the ceiling looks like Eve has just given Adam a blow job. Which, if nothing else, reinforces my feeling that Michelangelo very much had his own agenda. I think I like him.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Movie Blues

In what is becoming a Boxing Day tradition today Mum and I saw a blockbuster, although with a Christian message which is kind of appropriate. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, pure propaganda, wonderful film. The only problem is that now Im out in the real world again its all so bloody real and not fantastical and simple.

Christmas in Rome turns out to be less materialistic, more religious and not quite as much as a dampner on trading as Id expected. But even so, there are still beggars everywhere there are tourists, some are children, and many sitting outside churches in the hope that the Christmas cheer will spread. The worst are those who lie on the street, heads down and hands out, literally prostating themselves. And of course the children. Its dreadful, especially without the sense that things are getting any better in the world.

I think Ive got post-Narnia blues.

Actually we had quite a nice day yesterday, we stumbled on a lovely old restaurant that was open for lunch, and then in the evening there was a big public gathering right near the hotel for the lighting of the Chanukiah, an eight stick candelabra, for Channukah, which coincidentally fell on Christmas Day. It was quite amazing. I got talking to some Americans from New York, to avoid a creepy Orthodox guy who was circling me, stopping right in front of me and then staring at me for a full ten seconds before continuing to circle. Freak.

But my favorite moment was when Mum went to shake the hand of the Rabbi, who of course couldnt touch a woman, being Orthodox. Go Mum.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Bella Roma

Back in the big city my brain is on the verge of imploding. I hadnt quite realised how long it had been since I was in a city larger than a couple of million, and now Mum and I are wandering around like two stoners, pulling out the map on every corner and almost getting killed every time we try to cross the road.

The taxi trip from the train station was a pretty good indicator of what I am beignning to call the Rome Factor in my head, the driver kept speeding up across really small distances, beeping at everything in his way and narrowly missing hitting a pedestrian/vespa-rider/truck at every intersection, all the while turning around and telling us enthusiastically that he couldnt speak English. At one point we drove past an accident which he referred to as "una incidente". My first view of Rome was therefore through almost closed eyes and with my stomach on the floor.

We have managed to walk through- I hesitate to use the word see as I dont think my conscious mind really absorbed much of it- the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps and the Victor Emmanual Monument, as well as Capitol Hill and the Main Synagogue. Its incredible how this city is built, everything on top of each other. Living here you would get such an overpowering sense of your own insignificance, I dont think my ego could deal with it at all.

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve and Im looking forward to what the city will be like on this most holy of Christian holidays. And what Mum and I will do.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Mama mia

Florence turns out to be almost cooler than Milan, which I didnt think was possible. It may have something to do with this hotel and the many TV channels, but mainly its just because everyone is so nice. I went for a walk today through the city centre and was constantly impressed with how safe I felt, given that I cant speak the language and, lets face it, dont really know where I am in any real sense.

I checked out the Duomo which is very different to the one in Milan, while that one looks like a wedding cake, all white and delicate and wheeling spires into the sky, this one looks like a big pink and green ice cream cake. In thier own way they are both kind of revoltingly compelling, but I think the one in Milan has to win because it defies the laws of probablity in that it is so bloody big but still manages to look quite etheral.

Walking around today was kind of like being in my own film. I saw dozens of Japanese tour groups, which never fail to entertain me, a very tasteful wedding photo session (which is not what the many weddings Ive seen in Norton St had prepared me for), numerous police with their handbags, a small pony and a golf tournament. They had set up a position on the bridge to hit from and then little island of greens along the river itself. There were even men in kayaks whose exact role I wasnt sure of, perhaps their job was to collect the balls which fell into the water.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

In the lap of luxury

Well we made it to Florence with only a few bad moods on my part and about eight desserts on Mums. We are staying in the most gorgeous hotel I will ever stay in, in a converted medieval monastry in the centre of Florence. Earlier today as we lay zonked out on our beds from the train trip there was a blast of drums and I rushed to the window and threw open the shutters (it has shutters)and lo and behold, there was a medieval march passing by. From our window we could see the flags with their different coloured crests as they were thrown into the air with perfect symmetry. Welcome to Florence.

Everyone here is so friendly it is almost scary- we just went to a restaurant and everyone was totally okay with our lack of Italian. I am only now beginning to realise how uptight Germans must seem to the rest of Europe- here I can only say hello and can I have the bill and people are always laughing and smiling at me. In Germany I could discuss politics and people still seemed to hate me on first sight.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Shame Howard Shame

We have been reading about the race riots (so called by the overseas press) in Sydney and I am utterly horrified. This is the result of the kind of politics this government has been propogating for the last eight years and I just hope that this spurs some long overdue popular debate about this issue.

I just feel so angry that this has happened, it seems so bloody ignorant and unneccesary.

But where is the bull?

Oh good Lord Im in Italy, on a keyboard with no apostrophes. Im in Milan with Mum and its amazing. Were staying in a quite posh hotel in a very glamourous part of town, filled with little boutiques and bread shops selling pizza by the slice and lots and lots of pannetone. Every second woman seems to be wearing an enormous fur coat made from at least five poor dead animals, and even the traffic cops are fitted out with a smartly cut blue uniform, gold buttons and white belt, as well as a lovely white leather handbag to match.

The fashion here is just unbelievable, within about five minutes I felt like a big frumpy frump, in my jeans and jacket, and immediately started wearing the high waisted belt on my jacket that I felt too much like a wanker in in Kiel. Here, the wankier the better. Broaches, long flowing coats, hats, leather gloves, long boots, coats on dogs and sparkling handbags are just the beginning. On our second day here I saw a woman wearing a long white coat, white calf-length boots, a white scarf and carrying not one but two handbags, one sparkly, the other leather. She probably has a matching vespa at home.

Today we went to an art Gallery in the Brera Palace and were utterly overwhelmed with hundreds of gorgeous paintings of madonna and child in bright colours as if they were painted yesterday. I couldnt help thinking about how bizarre it is that this country which is so utterly patriarchal has this young mother as its most revered image. If an alien landed they would think Catholicism was a cult of femininity and fertility.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

I am a biscuit

Oh god I honestly think I have a biscuit addiction. What is wrong with this country? How can they bake biscuits day and night and still be so goddamn normal and not be running around half-crazed with sugar like me? I hate them all.

Friday, December 02, 2005

and then I got nude

Oi vai. The last two days have been cursed- did I do something bad in another life? FIrst the shit hit the fan at work and I was left in tears at the supermarket. Then I went to tkd to punch out the angst and wandered into the wrong change room afterwards. Being naked in the shower when your tkd instructor comes in is not an experience I want to repeat- thank god he was not naked also or I might have just never been able to go back.

On the plus side I am going to meet Mum tomorrow and spend a weekend in lovely, big, not-Kiel Hamburg and today I saw the sun for the first time since the weekend. Also I only have one week of work to go and then Italy. Hurrah!