NOTE TO READERS: The Rome 2014 trip begins with post #30. Posts #10—29 were Rome 2013. Posts 1–9 were Florence 2011. If you'd like to be notified of new postings by email, let me know at

Thursday, March 28, 2013

#24.1—Truth and Beauty: The Crossed Roads of the Cross

My first thought upon entering the Colosseo (coh-loh-SAY-oh)...was: Hey, this reminds me of going into the Pitt stadium. Pitt Stadium was where the Panthers played football when I was a student at the University of Pittsburgh (1960-64).

As with Pitt stadium, you enter il Colosseo from underneath the bleachers. It's dark, and there's nothing but the massive cement and steel underbelly of the bleachers. Well, actually, in Rome the seats weren't referred to as bleachers. But like stadiums today, there were cheap seats and not-so-cheap seats. Wealthy women were in the third tier, below all of the poor. Politicians, of course, were in the first tier, closest to the slaughter, with wealthy male citizens in tier 2.
I pause here in the narrative to note that in recent years, Pitt Stadium was demolished so that the Pitt Panthers then played downtown in Three Rivers Stadium, also home to the Steelers (Stillers to you Pgh. fans)...which was also in very short order...30 years...demolished and replaced by Heinz Field. Wow, that's a heck of a lot of demolishing in a country that makes up 5% of the world's population but uses 25% of the world's resources. I'm sure someone had very good reasons for demolishing two massive stadiums during my adult lifetime, but whatever those reasons were, they annoy me. Maybe I still haven't gotten over the tearing down of Forbes Field where from the 10th floor biology lab, I saw Maz hit the 1960 World Series homer to beat the Yankees in that final game.
But I long as I'm annoyed:
I went to see an exhibit on Cubism (more in another blog) where there was a preview of the next 2015 Universal Exposition on sustainable living for the planet to be held in Milano. Check out the official site at
Click on 125 partecipanti and look for the American flag among the participating nations. I guess gli Stati Uniti must have been all booked up through 2015.
And did you know: the use of capital punishment in Italy has been banned since 1889, with the exception of the period from 1926 to 1947...during rule by the Fascists. I believe that currently in America it's possible to project how many prison beds we will need in the future by looking at the current reading scores of third graders. Perhaps those states that have not abolished the death penalty should reflect on these details, as well as the fact that we're learning through DNA that those on Death Row are not always guilty of the crime for which they've been convicted. And maybe we need to do some more serious reform of our education system. Race to the Secretary Duncan calls it. Race to the Top of What?
I also believe that it was in 1749 that Pope Benedict XIV declared the Colosseum a sacred place because of the martyrdom of Christians there. He did this by posting the seven stations of the cross around the oval amphitheater. However, the Pope's motivations were not entirely spiritual. It seems that Romans were forever ripping off marble and brass from the place and recycling it for more contemporary uses.
In fact, the seats in the Colosseum are all gone...recycled...and its possible to see big holes in the huge block walls where the the brass spikes used to hold them together have been dug out. In short, while earthquakes, fire, and time have taken their toll on the big oval amphitheater, it should also be noted that after Romans gave up empiring, they took up recycling.
Oh my, but life is full of's tough when even your annoyances are ironic.
So what did they do with...the debris or whatever the word is for that which has been demolished...imploded, which is apparently what they did to Three Rivers...and all those old Las Vegas casinos. Garbage. Landfill. Wait...let me google it...I'll be right back....
I wish I hadn't looked. The Carnegie Science Center actually raffled off tickets to determine who got to push the button to implode the stadium...not quite 31 years old. By contrast, the Colosseum opened in the year 80 A.D. So anyway, after Elizabeth King of Mt. Washington in Pittsburgh pushed the button, it took just seconds for the stadium to implode into 8,000 tons of scrap metal and concrete. In fact, the YouTube video was 38 seconds, only half of which was the actual implosion.
I couldn't find out what they did with the mess. They biggest concern, so I read, was that debris would fall into the new stadium, Heinz Field, which is only 65 feet from the old stadium.
Pittsburghers, is this true? It sounds so crazy I am having trouble believing it.
65 feet away? Wait...I've got to google this again....
Yep, from the pictures, this appears to be the case.
Every Good Friday, the Pope leads a procession around the stations of the cross at the Colosseum. I wish I'd gone last night. I understand it is quite a mystical experience, no matter what your faith. I'd forgotten about this event and made a reservation at the Borghese Gallery late in the day. It's quite a walk away. I haven't been pacing myself and last night at 8 p.m., I just crashed.
Honestly, the beauty of the Borghese was exhausting. Oh yes, the Bernini sculptures, the Caravaggios, and the Raphaels were stunning. But the gallery itself a structure of such opulence that it's hard to wrap your mind around it. I found it almost crushing to the spirit.

The gallery was the palace of Cardinal Borghese who had no particular faith but was nephew to the pope so got himself a very lush appointment. Cameras are not allowed inside which, as you might imagine, thrilled me no end. More later on how that changed the viewing experience. For now, I will just say that it's impossible to describe the massive rooms painted and gilded and filled with paintings and sculptures from antiquity through the 17th century. The bust of Cardinal Borghese reveals a man who loved food, wine, and beautiful things. We would all enjoy hanging out with him, I think, but in the end it might be voting for someone for president because we'd like to have a beer with him.
Anyway, in Bernini's sculpture The Rape of Proserpine, the marble fingers of the brute actually dig into the marble flesh of the woman. You can actually feel the woman's frantic cry in her marble of struggle to get away. Bernini's David is in the act of flinging the stone at Goliath. How is it possible that marble can move? I believe it was Napoleon's sister who posed, quite scandalously at the time, in the nude as Venus for sculptor Antonio Canova. The marble that Canova turned into a fine silk coverlet doesn't quite cover Ms. Bonaparte's butt's astonishingly real that I felt kind of pervy marveling at it...until two exceedingly refined German couples began discussing it in what sounded, even in German, like delightfully pervy detail.
You have to strain your neck to look up at the ceilings in the Borghese. My first glimpse of what I was about to behold was through an ordinary doorway leading up from the entrance. The gold, the color, the marble, the vastness, the pure unadulterated opulence literally stopped me in my tracks. I didn't understand just how high the ceilings are until I climbed the stairs to the second floor. They just went on and on and on.
And you know how my friend mentioned that Caravaggio was not a nice man? Well, there's a painting Caravaggio did of David holding Goliath's decapitated head. That head is a self-portrait of Caravaggio. The painting was apparently a request to the Pope to forgive his breaking of the Thou Shalt Not Kill commandment. The artist had fled and wanted to come home. The face is grim, dark, and haunted, painted with no hint of compassion for himself and without any hint of the chemistry of the fireflies he ground into his paint to illuminate the faces of those called by holier spirits.
No, I wasn't there for the stations of the cross last night. The Via Crucis. But I guess in a way that writing this was a trip down that road...forgive us for what we are doing to our planet and ourselves as a people, for we know what we are doing but continue to do it anyway.
I will continue my walk down the Way of Truth and Beauty...thumbs up, down, and sideways in 24.2. I hope you will join me.
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