Rome, Day 1
18 April 2009 ~ Saturday
Here I am in Rome, presenting a scholarly paper on short story writer Flannery O’Connor (1925-1964) at “Poetics and Christianity: An International Flannery O’Connor Conference,” sponsored by the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross. I arrived at 8.45 am at Leonardo da Vinci airport after sleeping fitfully on a crowded plane from Philadelphia. I’ve never been to Rome, but it was easy enough to take a train from the airport to the Termini Rail Station downtown. From there, I grabbed a taxi. (“Everything will be all-a-right,” my driver said, as he sped over bumpy streets, swerving wildly past tour buses and cutting off scooters. I enjoyed his fearless driving, but decided right then that I would not rent a scooter in Rome.)
Hotel Due Torri is my home for the next week. It’s a small place, with narrow hallways and small, clean rooms. My 5th floor room has a terrace that overlooks the terra cotta roofs of the Piazza Navona area.
Though tired—and though I need to do some thinking and research before my conference presentation— I walked to nearby Piazza Navona.
Neptune and sea nymphs swim in the fountain there; artists sell paintings in the sun. I ate my first gelato (chocolate) and circled the piazza.
Rome is otherworldly.
When you travel or when you write, tangents and detours often lead to unexpected rewards. Along the way home from Piazza Navona, I discovered a little church called Sant’Antonio dei Portoghesi on Via dei Portoghesi. It’s not on any map or in any tour book. I noticed the front gate open and walked through it. Inside, I found a stunning church. A silver-haired man with slender fingers played the organ, and the music charged through the air. This, I learned, was organista Jean Guillou, practicing for that evening’s free concert. For now, there were four of us in the church, and we strolled the aisles and gasped at the ceilings as Guillou played.
I exited the church and continued to walk. The late afternoon sun cast a yellow glow on people walking toward the Pantheon. I followed. I ate pizza on the steps of the fountain next to the Pantheon, then wandered through the solid Corinthian columns among the throngs of tourists. There I was, in one of the oldest buildings in the world, wearing an iPod and listening to a downloaded Pantheon tour. (I think I heard Hadrian groan from the afterlife.)
I wanted to see the tomb of artist Raphael and the oculus—the round opening in the ceiling that created a column of light between heaven to earth.
I walked back to Sant’Antonio dei Portoghesi on Via dei Portoghesi for Jean Guillou’s concert. Now, the church was full. I stood in the back and listened to Guillou play Handel.