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Escape Cville. Rome, Part 3.

When I was 12, my family took us to Myrtle Beach for vacation as they always did. Except that year they decided Sis and I were old enough for some culture. Amid much protest and complaints about missing “valuable beach time” we drove south, to Brookgreen Gardens, hundreds of acres of plants and statuary developed back in the 1930’s by Anna Hyatt Huntington, an artist known for bronzes.

Highly pissed, but hoping to make the best of it, I packed my new Kodak Instamatic camera, the circular one, with film resembling a roulette wheel. Figured since I was about to be bored out of my skull for several hours I might as well have a toy to play with.

Little did I know I’d begin a love affair. I vividly recall wandering the grounds in unbelievably hot, stifling humidity, shirt stuck to my back, breathing difficult. Climbing the crest of a hill to find a life-size modern bronze sculpture of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. I had delved headlong into this novel the previous summer, precocious little shit I was, understanding about every tenth word or so. Seeing this sculpture, out there in the open, displayed so prominently like a national monument, was beyond overwhelming. The conjunction of art and nature started cogs in my artist brain that up to that moment had lain dormant. I started snapping photos like mad, exploring the grounds in earnest, a hunter whose prey was statuary.

I still love to photograph statues. Especially outdoors. Anything stone really. Arches, columns, ruins, rocks. Something about the immovability, the foreverness of the subject matter gets to me. Plus it’s easy. These subjects don’t move or criticize when you’re shooting so far up their nose you can count the hairs.

Discovering that Rome is an entire CITY full of rock just waiting to be photographed was a revelation. Smack dab in the middle of it all? The Roman Forum, hundreds of acres of Roman ruins, temples, gardens, palaces and other lovely hidden places city folk have just decided to build around rather than tear down. Thank the lord because it’s a magical place. So huge in scope, and so full of nooks and crannies, to only spend a few hours here is to give it short shrift. We spent the entire day photographing, oohing and ahhing over the ruins, and generally just wandering wherever our hearts directed us. So many hidden places lay there just waiting to be discovered.

My favorite? The Nymphaeum di Pologgia, or “The Nymphs of the Rain”. On a whim, Hubby and I climbed an enormously high set of stairs to find an ancient hollow dug into the side of a cliff. Inside was all moss and dripping water. It smelled cool and earthy like a cemetery. The nymphaeum had a crypt-like feel, but not in a creepy way. More like an ancient sacred place full of magic, long forgotten. In ancient Rome, architects created these oases of cool stone and running water throughout the city to help inhabitants escape the sweltering heat. It was beautiful. With hundreds of people running all over the Forum, only Hubby and I had found this spot at this moment. Scores of people at the foot of the stairs just walked on by. It felt like all our own for just a little while. We stayed, snapping photographs, breathing in the history and the enchantment, hoping to take it with us. Our own little hidden oasis.

I left the Forum that afternoon blissful, sated. Full of art history and nature. And scores of photographs. All just steps from our hotel room.

Dinner that night? Equally magical. We wandered the neighborhood of Monti looking for an open table in vain. Friday night and every place was packed. Never fear, for we discovered if you wander far enough up those winding streets making up the neighborhood of Monti, eventually you’ll find an open door. And we did on the Via del Boschetto, at Al 19 Trattoria. Travelers tip: when in doubt, pick a place with a number in it. It’s usually a Mom and Pop joint, and the food is always great.

Our starter was grilled baby octopus with mussels, clams, and toasted bread in a garlic/butter sauce. Tender and delicious, in a garlicky broth tasting of the ocean. Then sweetbreads in a roasted red pepper crema, and sea bass ravioli with cherry tomatoes. Amazing. Ended the feast with a grilled pear with local honey, goat cheese, cinnamon & poppy seeds. Lightly sweet, and the tang of the goat cheese went perfectly with the char on the grilled pear. Wonderful together. All washed down with a lovely Barbera d’Asti.

Rome is full of hidden places, the Roman Forum being just one of them. Al 19 Trattoria is another. The following day we wandered into a tiny Greek chapel, down a side street, completely hidden from view. A priest sat silently meditating just to the left side of the altar, where Christmas trees twinkled, one on each side. It was cool, smelling of stone and ancient things. Ancient frescoes peeled off the walls. Unlike the gold-laden basilicas, this church was understated, simple. Anciently austere. Covered in hidden beauty. It reminded me of the Nymphaeum the day before. I sat in a pew and sighed heavily, content. I had officially fallen deeply in love. If Rome had this many hidden places, hidden treasures, I thought, I could spend the rest of my life discovering them and be one happy girl.

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I apologize for including so MANY photos, but upon looking them over, I found myself unable to leave any of them out. The Roman Forum is a MAGICAL place, and deserving of every incredible picture that’s here (incredible = subject matter and not any skill of my own of course ;)

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