Not presidential? Here’s what Obama did to get people upset (he wore a tan suit). Contrast that with what Trump has done? And now he wants ten times as many nuclear weapons? Everywhere we go we apologize for him — to cabbies and waiters and busboys, to the train station information lady, to the concierge — and whether in sign language or perfect English, they instantly get it and share our dismay.
Italy is magnificent. You knew that, but wow. And if you’re lucky enough to be able to go in October instead of the hot and even more crowded summer months? Here are some random things I’ve learned (but have not verified, in case I misheard): Rome’s population was about a million back in the day (we saw the spot Caesar was assassinated, three or four hundred meters from the site of the house where Michelangelo lived while painting the Sistine Chapel — which is NOT the dome of St. Peter’s (magnificent and adjacent though that is) — but over time and invasions and plagues it shrank to ten or twenty thousand . . . before recovering over the centuries to, now, more like 3 million (5 million in the greater region) . . . but the population of native Italians is again dropping — by 200,000 just last year — which makes me sad, because who can watch “Moonstruck” (as we did on the flight over) and not want there to be as many Italians as possible? (“Old man, you give those dogs another piece of my food, I’m gonna kick ya till you’re dead.”)
So that’s the first thing I learned.
And did you know the Italians had no tomatoes — no tomatoes! — or potatoes, for that matter, until they arrived from the New World (discovered by Christopher Columbus 525 years ago today)? Not sure whether Columbus brought them back himself or the Italians had to wait longer, but there could be no tomato pizza without America. And did you know Italians did not invent pizza until 1898? (I am particularly unsure of that factoid; but it could be accurate. [UPDATE: That was the year Pizza Margherita was invented for Queen Margherita: red, white, and green, tomato, cheese and basil.])
Or that most of the perhaps 20,000 residents of Pompeii escaped (and that no lava ever touched the city) — because the eruption was at 1pm or so (just ask Pliny the Younger, who witnessed it from across the Bay of Naples) and it was not until about 5am the next morning that the huge mushroom cloud of pumice and ash and poison gas suddenly collapsed onto the city, suffocating those who had chosen — or been ordered — to stay behind and protect their houses from looting. And those who died were NOT turned into stone figures on the spot (as Apollo turned Daphne into a tree, which you can see in Bernini’s astonishing statue at the Borghese Gallery — see her toes beginning to sprout roots? her flesh turning to bark? her fingers sprouting leaves?), but rather their bodies decomposed even as the surrounding ash solidified, leaving a sort of “negative.” Drill a hole into the top of that cavity; pour in plaster; wait a few days for it to set; and then chip away the exterior: that is who you see when you visit this remarkable city.
(Others escaped the volcano but died in the fairly minor tsunami.)
And then there was touring the Colosseum at night, down below what would have been the sand-covered arena floor, where the gladiators and beasts were corralled into 24 cages, any combination of which could be elevated to the arena floor on cue. We saw all that. We stood where the gladiators (and rhinoceri) stood.
And more! But there’s a 5-euro margherita pizza with my name on it waiting at Tito’s in Vico Equense, and I must not be late.
Hurray for Italy. My sense is that Italians, like much of the rest of the world, are praying for us to regain our senses. I don’t know whose IQ is higher, Trump’s or Tillerson’s, but I know we are in deep trouble. Which bodes ill for the world at large.
Have a great day!
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