Well, that was exciting

We arrived in Rome, exhausted again. This time it wasn’t about the jet-lag, or a long flight. It’s just that we had to get up at 4:30 a.m. in order to catch our flight. Jim’s our tour guide here, and his approach is decidedly more casual than Nora’s. There were just two sights on our schedule: The Pantheon and Saint Ignatius of Loyola. (Heh, isn’t that cute? We visited the Pantheon first in both Paris and Rome.) The Roman Pantheon to me remains one of the most awesome buildings I’ve ever seen. Here’s the picture I took three years ago:

I couldn’t get a good picture of that wonderful shaft of light this time, because the sun was so high when we entered that the pool of light from the dome’s oculus was actually on the floor of the building. But that made for another interesting picture:

Here are Greta and Jim, almost completely washed out by the glare of the sun as it penetrates the darkness of the rest of the room.

Jim’s next scheduled stop turned out to be closed by the time we got to it, so we made a detour to the Palazzo Doria Pamphilj. We don’t usually opt for the audio-tour, but here the guides were foisted on us by the entrance attendant. Apparently my bad Italian was enough to convince him we weren’t American, because at first he wanted to give us the French version. Eventually we got that straightened out and received a personal audio tour narrated by one of the heirs of the palace, who had a charming British accent. Perhaps he was educated at Eton? Or perhaps he was just the guy hired by the Palazzo to translate the original Italian version of the tour. Either way, it seemed a little creepy, getting familiar descriptions of the famous works of art on the walls, from a “descendant” of Pope Innocent X.

Actually, it turned out that he was descended from Innocent’s nephew, who the Pope had made a Cardinal but relinquished the title in order to marry the woman who ended up paying for most of the art in the Palazzo.

Regardless, it turned out to be an interesting tour, and given that the actual labels on the pictures were quite sparse, the audioguide was somewhat useful. Here’s the photo I snapped during a moment before I remembered that photography was prohibited throughout the building:

There was also an intriguing Velasquez portrait of the Pope, as well as two busts by Bernini. These Popes sure seem to be able to get all the hip artists to do their bidding…

I’m saving the images from Saint Ignatius for CogDaily, but there was one other notable event yesterday. You may have heard that George W. Bush was in town, and that he visited the Pope. Buried in the AP coverage of the story was this little blurb:

Tens of thousands of anti-globalization and far-left activists marched peacefully through the capital’s ancient center to protest Bush’s visit. Thousands of police were deployed round the Colosseum, the downtown Piazza Venezia and other sites.

As the protests were concluding, riot police used tear gas on small groups who threw bottles and donned masks in defiance of a police order.

More than an hour into the clashes, police charged the demonstrators, pursuing them down alleyways to break up the crowd as helicopters circled overhead. News agency ANSA said six people were taken into custody.

The apartment we’re staying in in Rome happens to be in one of those “alleyways,” a narrow street called Via Del Governo Vecchio.

We were back from our touristing, enjoying a glass of wine in the front room before heading out for dinner.

As helicopters rumbled very loudly overhead, we began to hear the chants of the crowd on the main boulevard, Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, one block away. Then, occasionally, what sounded like gunfire (I suspect now it was actually tear gas canisters exploding). Then a wave of protesters would come running up one of the narrow alleyways, cell phones and cameras in hand. This happened several times in succession. I tried to take a couple pictures and movies with my camera, but never really got a good one. Here’s the best I could do:

The proprietor of the restaurant below us was concerned enough to move his outdoor tables and chairs back inside.

After 30 minutes or so, things seemed to be quieting down, so we headed out to dinner, in a restaurant several blocks in the other direction from Corso Vittorio Emanuele II. We encountered a few protesters in the streets, but didn’t see any confrontations. We did decide to have dinner inside our restaurant, rather than al fresco. The restaurant had fabulous pizza, the best wine we’ve had on the entire trip, and a great collection of corkscrews:

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