Tuesday, April 14, 2009


It is one thing to plan an itinerary, another to pull it off. Below is a real time layout of how my research trip actually went with brief commentary, provided for both my own reference, and to help you plan your trip, which (if you haven't already) you must take. Sorry, no excuses. I saw lots of people in wheelchairs. Save the money. Make the sacrifice. Take the kids. Life is short.

You'll pardon the self-portraits. Person pics are generally more interesting for others to look at, and they help me remember I was actually there. Nestled back as I now am in the settled Jersey plains, I'm finding that hard to believe.

March 31st - Arrival in Venice 'bout 1pm. That day, icon museum, S. Giorgio dei Greci, S. Giorgio Maggiore, S. Zaccaria (Bernini in situ, which even a photograph of is enough to qualify as Met-sanctioned contemporary art). Stay at the cheap Locanda Silva ('bout 50 euros a night with shared bathroom).

April 1 - Accademia and Peggy Guggenheim art museums (contrast indescribable). Frari Church, S. Polo (Franciscan/Dominican art duel), then leeched off an incredible tour of Tintoretto's "Sistine Chapel", the Scuola San Rocco. (Ahh, Scuolas - private, effective, non-government funded charitable foundations. Remember those?) Then a visit to the Mesopanditissa icon at S. Salute. Marian icons is the focus of my dissertation, and hence my trip.

April 2 - Secret Itinerary tour of the Doge's Palace (worth it). Get into San Marco's just before they turned the dome lights out (planning makes perfect). Correr Museum (okay, I rushed it), and then the boat to Torcello in the pouring rain, which was a risk, but it cleared up as I got to Torcello. Bellini at Harry's Bar of Hemingway fame (worth it).

April 3 - Turns out this was an unfeasible day which I painfully pulled off, but not without acute exhaustion. 9am pick up car, drive to Padua. Barely make the 11:45 ticket to Giotto's Arena Chapel due to navigation and parking. See Padua University and St. Antony's tomb, then off to Ravenna. Arrival in Ravenna such that I have to sprint between mosaics, and while missing out on S. Apollinare in Classe, I saw the rest. Then the grueling drive over the mountains to Florence at night. After more parking nightmares (due to late arrival), check into a not so great hotel at 2am.

April 4 - 7am move car to cheaper lot, then rush to the Bargello, which careful preparation enables one to experience quickly but intensely. Then to Santa Maria Novella and San Marco (both were essential). Make the 12pm Accademia by the skin of my chin (due to having to find a place to print out the reservation details which I didn't realize I needed). Michelangelo's David was there, but the icons are upstairs. Then 2pm Uffizi which I rode out until closing. I wept for those without reservations. Then a meaty dinner overlooking the Ponte Vecchio, only to then witness a vegetarian demonstration perhaps spurred by my meal. Surprisingly, this was an almost perfectly planned day and did not feel rushed.

April 5 (Palm Sunday) - Move the car, Duomo liturgy, Brancacci Chapel, Santa Croce, Medici Chapels, San Lorenzo, (I missed the Medicci-Riccardi Palace), and Piazza Michelangelo at sunset. Moral of the story: No Medicci, no Michelangelo. Patronage matters. These additional sites meant I ended up spending five additional hours in Florence, which forced Arezzo and Assisi out of my plans, but more time in Florence was worth it. That night quick drive to Siena, where I enjoyed perhaps the best pizza dinner I've ever had. Stay at the wonderful Alma Domus (con vista por favore), the best hotel of my visit (nun-run).

April 6 - First thing in Siena is the Pinacoteca, then the City Tower, then the Civic Museum (Lorenzetti's allegory), then the Duomo Museum (Duccio's Maesta), then the Duomo. The Santa Maria della Scala Museum is an impressive feet of museumcraft, but is very, very big. Say goodbye to Saint Catherine's skull at S. Domenico (not realizing I would soon see her body in Rome), then drive to Orvieto, that city on a hill which was, simply put, a revelation. As a priest friend explained, Orvieto is ground zero for the real presence. The few hours I spent there were arresting, and sufficient. Then drive to Rome, where I drop off the car at the airport, take the train into the city, and wander trying to find the Yellow hostel where I earn the reputation as "the married guy."

April 7 - Rome is different. Any attempt at "doing" the city with the same ridiculous pace I set for myself previously would inevitably fail, so I didn't even try. I took the morning to try to recover from exhaustion and process some photos. Then it was onto Santa Maria Maggiore, S. Alfonoso to meet with a priest about my dissertation icon, S. John Lateran, S. Croce in Gerusalemme (which had a nice exhibit of Russian icons).

April 8 - Getting to the Borghese is difficult, but I made my 9am reservation. It was a visually satisfying experience. Then I check the Opus Dei headquarters near by. Then the Scavi tour of the Vatican and then St. Peter's Basilica itself. The Scavi tour was a keeper. Before 1940, saying that St. Peter's was built over the tomb of St. Peter was a essentially a matter of faith. Since 1940, those who so believe have convincing archaeological evidence in their favor.

April 9 (Maundy Thursday) - Giotto exhibit (temporary), then the Vatican museum from 12 - 5pm (seriously, it took that long). The museum's essential message: Michelangelo (Sistine Chapel) is to classicism (Greek sculpture) what Aquinas (Summa Theologica) is to the best of pagan philosophy (Aristotle). Catholicism, the great amoeba, absorbs again.

I barely caught the Pope at a St. John Lateran service, and then did the fountain walk (Spanish steps, Trevi fountain, etc.). I witnessed throngs of youth wandering the streets of Rome, some going to party, some going in droves from church to church to venerate the Blessed Sacrament. Choose this day, right? I went with the revering droves.

April 10 (Good Friday) - Colosseum that morning, then S. Clemente, S. Cosma e Damiano, then Good Friday service in the Pantheon. The gods may be gone, but the one that matters is holding out. Then S. Luigi (Carravagio), S. Maria sopra Minerva. The Pope's carrying the cross at the Colosseum was not the best choice - I got a better view at Yankee stadium, but it was neat to watch him through the Arch of Constantine.

April 11 - S. Passede, S. Pudentziana, S. Francesco (where with persistence, I actually got to see Rome's earliest icon of Mary), the Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum, Capitoline Museum (where, captive as I am to cultural Christianity, I was sucked up by the statue of Constantine), Fra Angelico exhibit (who I'm convinced is the artist who understands heaven best), then to Trastevere where I enjoyed the neighborhood and caught the beginning of the Easter Vigil at S. Maria in Trastevere, but sadly, was too burnt out to see it through.

April 12 - Off to the Vatican for Easter. Bernini's concave pavement made it actually a very visible service. Then, fool that I am, I walked to the tomb of Saint Paul at S. Paulo Fuori le Mura. But seeing pilgrims used to walk there from France, it seemed fair. Visiting tombs and churches does in fact, I learned, impart spiritual benefits, perhaps explaining the plenary indulgence incentive inscribed on so many of them. Then train to the airport, night at the Amsterdam Yotel (perhaps the most efficient use of space I've ever encountered), where I was sadly unable to finish Twilight because it was no longer on the movie selection.

And so it went. I wouldn't be the first to try to explain that while this was a pleasurably momentous journey, it was no vacation.