reading list for this week:

Sir Walter Scott's Guy Mannering
Hegel's Philosophy of History, exerpts
Thomas de Quincey's Confessions of an English Opium-Eater
John Barrell's "The Infection of Thomas de Quincey: a Psychopathology of Imperialism"

reading list for next week:

Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice
Judith Butler's Gender Trouble
Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication Concerning the Rights of Women
Matthew Lewis's The Monk
Sigmund Freud's ‘The Uncanny’


There has been little in the way of an update to this meagre blog, mainly due to the fact that not much has been happening. I am reading, of course, an inordinate amount of pages from the 19th century (which should excuse any heights of language to which I here aspire), but that's about it. I hear on the wind that there's to be a bit of a movie night tonight. Even so, that's not much of a change from the usual. For those who might care, and those who don't, I am presently making myself acquainted with the Right Honourable... Sir Walter Scott. His novel Guy Mannering is my present occupation, though I hear it is not one of his most popular. It has held my interest, though, for 320 pages, and I do not think I'm stretching my faith in Scott's authorship when I say that it will probably remain agreeable still for the 200 pages I have left to go. After this, I must blitz through Thomas de Quincey's odd memorandum entitled The Confessions of an English Opium-Eater. I make my confession this: that I did not know till now that opium could be eaten. Ah well. There will always be ignorance of something, great or small, to humble us.


...Visionary power
Attends upon the motions of the winds
Embodies in the mystery of words;
There darkness makes abode, and all the host
Of shadowy things fo work their changes there
As in a mansion like their proper home.
Even forms and substances are circumfused
By that transparent veil with light divine,
And through the turnings intricate of verse
Present themselves as objects recognized
In flashes, and with glory scarce their own.

Wordsworth, The Prelude (1805)


and it burns, burns, burns...

wide awake two hours too early from a cloud of smoke in the kitchen and, oh yes, the fire alarm. and the evacuation of the entire building. and one more of our kitchen pots scalded to bits. i will need a nap this afternoon.


Roma, day Eight

Our last full day in Rome, we foolishly slept in again and had only four and a half hours in the Vatican museum. The Laocoon is Chaeli's favorite statue in the world, and there was a special exhibit for it. We also saw the famous Torso and so rounded out our education regarding Michelangelo's major influences.

I was very excited also to see the Raphael rooms, and they did not disappoint. We spent at least half an hour in front of the School of Athens ruminating on the academic community, the heritage of such thinkers, and the connection between Raphael's use of colour and his drinking habits.

We made a side trip on the way to the Sistine Chapel down to the rooms of Modern Religious art. We meant to just slip on through and get a general idea of what was there, but some of the art was so beautiful that we ended up spending about an hour down there. Chaeli's camera died at this point (you're not allowed to photograph the Sistine Chapel anyway), so we sketched everything we saw that was interesting. I don't know if the works were genuinely fantastic, or if it was just really refreshing not to be looking at Renaissance art for a bit. But I was absolutely amazed at some of the stuff they had. It was also encouraging to see the very best modern art I had ever seen (and that includes everything I've seen in Chicago and Minneapolis) actually done as efforts of faith, meditation, and Christian spirituality.

And from here we just popped into the Sistine Chapel. :) which also did not disappoint, despite the numerous postcards and calendars I have seen using its images. It was much bigger than I expected. Taller, that is. We were there for more than half an hour, but there is so much to see from every point of reference, that it passed by as though mere minutes. My neck was rather sore from craning so far back.

From here, we met up with our hostel proprieter whose name is Laura. She is from Romania, and speaks very little English, but we went out to dinner with her anyway, and then to the Trevi one last time for some gelato and counting more kisses.

Roma, day Seven

We were in Assisi! The view from our bedroom was amazing. It overlooked a belltower, medieval buildings, and a vast landscape of farmland and distant hills and beauty. Having slept in, we only had time to visit one church, but that was all that was necessary for amazement and satisfaction. We spent three hours in the Basilica di San Francesco, because it was simply the most utterly beautiful building of ever. The frescoes... the blue... the ceilings and walls.... After the Basilica, we found a quaint shop or two and a spot for lunch, then grabbed a bus (no strange Italian boys this time) to the train station and back to Roma!


Roma, day Six

was Christmas Day, and Chaeli and I hopped on the first train we found to Assisi. The train conductor was very friendly and charged us half price for our tickets! The Umbrian countryside is beautiful and I want to live there. It is much like California, though, and I think that if our lovely state was not so heavily populated and had a greater history of struggle and some impressive crumbling architecture, it could definitely rival Italy for beauty. The train stopped just below Assisi, which is in the hills, in a town called Santa Maria degli Angeli. We did not know that it was not Assisi, though, since the train station was called "Assisi" and there were guidebooks for Assisi in the station gift shop. It took us a while to figure this out and longer still to discover that the busses had all stopped running. I spent the evening in a coffeeshop while Chaeli used the internet cafe round the corner trying to find the hotel in which she had made reservations. We got a ride to Assisi from the guy who ran the internet shop, but since he was a guy of about twenty years old and Chaeli is attractive, he brought along his cousin and they tried to take us dancing. I was a bit uncomfortable with the situation. They seemed like very safe boys, too awkward to be a threat, too genuinely curious to have wicked intentions, but I was tired and just wanted to sleep. They brought us to the hotel to check in first, but by this time, the reception desk was closed, all the lights were out, and we had to find an alternative. The third hotel we stopped at was open, and I asked to be excused from the night's revelry. I took a much-needed bath while Chaeli went out, but apparently the disco was closed as well. So they showed her a hilltop night view of the city, which I am sure was very impressive, and took her back to the hotel safe and sound.

Roma, day Five

was... Christmas Eve! and I woke up with stomach pain. The pain was so bad that I was sure it was appendicitis so I had the proprieters of the hostel drive me to the emergency room. Oh yes, and I also threw up a bit... it was very dramatic. They gave me a shot for the nausea, and it was all very difficult because not many people spoke English. Mostly I lay on a wheely-bed in the hallway all morning. They looked at my insides with one of those things that can see through your skin and the surgeons poked at me, but they all said that nothing was wrong. Not my appendix, then. After the shot for nausea, I felt much better, and the pain did not return till the next morning. And then, it only returned tamely, and I managed to walk it off and fend it off with some ibuprofen. I can only assume that it was a very bad case of indigestion. But I swear I thought something was going to burst inside me, it hurt so bad. I might not have resorted to the emergency room had I not purchased travel insurance online before I left. However, the hospitals in Rome are of that socialist sort that doesn't charge you, and I must admit to a certain skepticism regarding services that come free. Not that I want to buy my way to health, but I just have no standard by which to assess the merit of their medical practice without some numeric figure to attach to it. Especially as I could not understand a word they spoke.

We went from the hospital to see Bernini's St Teresa in Ecstasy, which is one of my favorites. Again, being both a church and poor lighting, we did not take pictures. And all along the way, I kept expecting to buy some postcards later. I never did. Since I fully expect to return, however, I don't suppose that is too much of a problem. After all, I DID throw a coin in the fountain.

We went from Teresa to South Rome by Metro and were again just in time to interrupt the mass at St Paul's Cathedral. St Paul's was the largest church in Rome until St Peter's was built in the Vatican. There is a big mosaic in the apse (the half-dome front-part), which was very impressive. And lots of space. And carols for the Christmas season. In Italian, of course, but we tried to join in anyway. After this, we had some dinner at a nearby cafe-bar, the only thing open on Christmas Eve, and I sketched their chairs in my journal because they were like cubes, which seemed unique and cool.

We took the Metro again, this time from South Rome back up to the Vatican where tons of people were swarmed in the circley-square for the midnight vigil. We watched the Pope on the big TV screens that they had set out their for the purpose, and then, after much waiting in line, pushing, shoving, and various un-Christmaslike behaviours, managed to get our very selves into the church. We didn't see anything, though, other than lots of other people who were trying to see things, because there were these screens set up to hide the milling populace from the TV cameras or something. To actually take part in the service, one needed a ticket. And we were a bit slow with that business. It was a very weird scenario, actually. So many people were just there to see the Pope, or anyone they could find in a church-costume, for their photos, that it was very hard to tell the different between the pilgrims and the tourists. This was a confusion throughout our entire time there. I have a feeling that the distinction has been difficult since the Dark Ages when pilgrimages were most popular. It was, as far as I know, the only way for common folk to go on vacation. And the relics and churches and religious folk were the closest things they had to souvenirs, historical artifacts, museums, and celebrities. hmm...

Roma, day Four

We went shopping, and I spent way too much money on a coat and I will be eating nothing but porridge and soup till my next loan check comes in March because of it. But the Italian fashion is really intoxicating--they design with great freedom and individuality--and I was actually practicing a great deal of restraint. I bought some gifts for various people and Chaeli bought a blue dress. We also stopped off at a gallery in the Barberini Palace. I didn't mention that the first night in Rome we stumbled into this palace and happily rambled about on its grounds (it's in the middle of the city and the gates were wide open).

The gallery was not that impressive, except that it was in a way-cool building with way-cool marble stairs and ornate painted ceilings. I think someone should make a coffee table book of the floors and ceilings of Rome. They are among the more impressive aspects of the city's impressiveness. There was one painting in the gallery that was familiar (of course, I have no photo, but I will find an image online if I can) called "Sacred and Profane Love," by Giovanni Baglioni. It is a picture of an angel of light and a demon of great ugliness interacting with a regular person. We went to dinner that night and I had some kind of spaghetti-ish thing with mussels and it was yummy. We also drew pictures of what we thought angels looked like for real, and now I want to have an art exhibit with all sorts of depictions of angels in all manner of mediums from lots of different artists. The only requirement is that no chubby babies are allowed.

Roma, day Three

We were going to go back to the Vatican to look in the Museum, but we woke up later than we should have, the opening hours were very limited, and we decided to save it till after Christmas day. Instead, we went on a tour of some other churches. San Giovanni, only ten minutes south of our hostel rooms, was the first legal church built in the city. It supposedly houses the heads of the apostles Peter and Paul. Yes, the heads. There are some lovely Popes buried there and even more lovely statues of the apostles--I think we took some pictures of Peter--which are, of course, very huge.

Across the street are the Holy Steps, which were apparently shipped over from Jerusalem and which Jesus walked up with his cross. The tradition goes that one can only ascend these steps on one's knees. Many people (mostly women, from what I saw, and several of them nuns) go there to climb the steps and pray, and the wood is worn with a thousand or so years worth of prayer. Not much of a sight for tourists, but a beautiful place for pilgrims.

From there, I cannot remember which one we did first, but we went to the Basilica of Maria Maggiore, and I didn't like it. It was gaudy without being beautiful, even though it bears many very very old mosaics, most of which I did not see because they are very high and we didn't feel like exploring.

We also went to St Peter in Chains, which houses, other than Peter's chains, Michelangelo's Moses. This was supposed to be the frontpiece of a massive tomb for the Pope, but Michelangelo was called away to do the Sistine Chapel and could not finish the job. The frontpiece is beautiful enough. Moses looks really complicated, like he's on the verge of doing something, and yet completely at rest. He looks both benevolent and concerned, waiting and active.... I don't quite know how to describe it.

Roma, day Two

We had breakfast the next morning at a cafe a few doors down from our hostel which we knew was good when we found that none of the people working there spoke English. The cappuccino was the best we had anywhere the whole week long, and we ordered our breakfast by pointing at the croissants in the pastry window. We went their every morning until we left. They were very jolly, invigorated people who laughed with each other, recognized all their customers and winked at you in knowing ways. After that, we headed to the Colosseum, which was only a ten minute walk from the hostel! When we were about to go in, we were offered a tour from a group of English speakers who looked official and had little hip-pack microphones. They seemed authentic, and they were, so we agreed. The Colosseum is very big. :) I have learned some interesting facts about it, such as... oh, what did I learn? oh yes. Only one-third of the original structure is still standing. The rest of it was pillaged by the city of Rome itself over time, and its scattered remains can be seen in countless churches, piazzas, and other sites around the city. The only specific one that I know of is St Peter's Cathedral, the facade of which was built using stones from the Colosseum. The tour guide lady kept using the word pillage, and it was right that she should because the architecture of the place is stunning. And it is a pity that a beautiful thing should be ruined because of a lack of concern or awareness for that beauty. But then she started talking about the number of people who died in a single day of festivities--the number which I don't remember, but which I promise is staggering--in the Colosseum, and I thought, "yes, it is right and good that this place should be torn down and scattered across the city, that a church should reclaim its elements for a better purpose, and that we should see nothing left of it but an empty, bramble-covered shell."

After the Colosseum, our tour guide passed us off to a partner who showed us Palatine Hill and the Forum. These are just behind the Colosseum, and comprise the city space in which emperors and senators mingled their homes (the Hill) with the city bustle (the Forum). Most of the Rome-bits of the film the Gladiator take place somewhere between the Colosseum and the Forum. There are lots of things to see here, like Constantine's Arch and Titus's Arch and pillars from temples now fallen and fountains and stones and the remains of Vestal Virgin statues and... well, that's about it. There is also an exhibit of old marble statues in a building on Palatine Hill that we took some pictures in. This was also a convenient beginning to my love for carved marble which remained for the rest of the journey and will no doubt set me on a life pursuit of marble-sculptors present and active in the world today. I fear that they are few. While wandering through the Forum, Bizarre!, I ran into Rose, a girl from the flat I moved out of at the beginning of the semester. I had no idea she was going to be in Italy, so it was quite a surprise. As Chaeli and I were headed to St Peter's and Rose had just come from there, we did not unite in our tourist efforts. But it was good to run into her nonetheless.

So we took the Metro from the Forum to the Vatican. Lots more shops... crazy Italian drivers... and then the pillars of St Peter's square (which is, incidentally, a circle) that wrap around like arms embracing multitudes--I'm not being dramatic; that is what they're supposed to look like. It is an immense space and the church is absolutely Huge. Hugely huge. Huger than imagination. But it is not so big as to be obnoxious, offensive, or ugly. It maintains a simplicity, somehow, perhaps because of all the space it contains, that allows it still to be beautiful. We walked in, and the Pieta took me completely by surprise. I was just feeling the first moments of awe about the church itself, when Chaeli said 'you might want to spend some time over there' and pointed to the right of the door where Mary and Jesus were lit up and holy. I admit that I cried a bit--it was all quite overwhelming and I didn't realize that the Pieta was going to be there (bad research on my part), and it was quite as beautiful as I expected. The only trouble is that, due to the hammer-bearing madmad in the '70s, the statue is set apart by bullet-proof glass. This does not obscure the view from straight on, but it does limit the view TO straight on. Actually, it is quite elevated, too, so... well, it is beautiful, but distant. We arrived in St Peter's just in time for the five o'clock mass (we always seemed to stumble into churches just in time to disturb the mass), so I gazed at the statue with the sound of a choir in the background. It was all very beautiful.

After this, we had gelato at the Trevi Fountain and counted couples kissing, and I tossed a coin in--an Australian coin that I had found on the street. There was a man there picking coins off of the bottom of the fountain with a magnet. His bum was wet from sitting on the edge. We saw him later eating a big sandwich from a nearby shop, and from the way he was laughing with his friends, it seemed that he had bought the sandwich with the coins.


Roma, day One

I left my flat very early in the morning, but still managed to be so late to my flight that they had given away almost all of the seats and had to put me in business class. Woe is me! I had to use real silverware and drink out of an actual ceramic cup! I wish I could always fly business class--it makes you feel like a real human being. I landed in Italy and found the train into the city. The view from the train windows looked much like Chicago or the outskirts of any major city. Apartment buildings crammed together, laundry hanging from balconies, graffiti here there and everywhere, lots of trash... but there were also Mediterranean-type palm trees (which I haven't seen in a while) and a general Santa Barbara-type feel to all the city-ness that made it quite an enjoyable train ride. The station was a fifteen minute walk from my hostel and I had printed out a detailed map from Google to help me on my way. My little wheelie suitcase bore the jutted cobblestones very well, and the Italians seemed not to mind the entrance of another tourist into their city. There were lots of shops, but nothing remarkably ancient. Chaeli was asleep in the hostel when I arrived, for she had been travelling for about 22 hours or something like that. I was going to go out and explore for a bit, but found that I, too, was tired. So I took a two hour nap, woke her up, and we left to peruse the city. It was evening by this time, so we headed for the Spanish steps (I believe in the film Roman Holiday, Gregory Peck holds a watermelon on these steps while Audrey Hepburn eats gelato. I could be wrong...). The church at the top of the steps is supposed to be worth looking at, but a column-monument directly in front of it was having some work done, so I mostly saw lots of scaffolding. The view from the top of the steps, however, was not a disappointment. There were lots of city lights and a few important-looking domes all lit up across the landscape. Chaeli and I followed this with some dinner (I had gnocchi with gorgonzolla sauce; very yummy) and more wandering around. Altogether, I was struck with a remarkable sense of safety. Either Rome is a very gentle city (excepting the pickpockets), or the Spirit of God was favouring us with particular grace. This sense of safety lasted the entire trip, no matter how late or how lost (though we were never really lost) we found ourselves. All was always very well. Everyone around us was very gracious and full of goodwill.
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