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On Pincian Hill

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From the notes of Day 39: 6/18/2011

The jazz band is swinging over the edge of Pincian Hill.  Behind them are the piazzas and pizzas of Rome.  The Ancient Egyptian obelisk of Piazza del Popolo fills the foreground.  Further west there is a dome that covers a sizable portion of an entire country.  I am sitting against the railing at the cliff side of Pincian Hill listening to a swinging band and waiting for the sun to set over the Vatican.  It is just past noon so I have a while to wait.

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I opened my blanket into the grass and took a seat.  This part of the park was full of people who were picnicking and napping.  I had a difficult time deciding which one to choose so I did both.  Success all around.

When I woke up from my nap it was still early in the afternoon.  The sun would not set for hours.  I packed up my blanket and walked to the east.  The path led straight as far as I could see.  It also broke off down smaller paths every few sets of steps.  I took one of the paths and found that it paralleled a row of marble busts.  So did all the other paths.  I saw Ancient Greeks and Romans alongside the bust of Charles Lindbergh.  I even saw what purported to be the bust of a wizard from Volinor, though I have my doubts.  At the end of one of the trails I found a small outdoor sculpture exhibition featuring pieces by Salvador Dali.  I circled the exhibit and headed back to the trails.  The busted paths opened into sidewalks, boulevards, and bridges.

I took the high road.

I sat on the guard rails of the bridge looking down at the street below.  On the bridge behind me were weavers and winders on wheels.  They danced and dashed among miniature construction cones on their blades of wheels.  A shirtless man with tattoos and a drum provided a reactive soundtrack.  The bladers slid one footed along the pavement, whipping left and right around the cones.

As the first cold of evening moved in the bridge emptied.  I followed the long, straight path back towards the lookout point of Pincian Hill.  The fountains and statues on the path were lit by the gold of the ready-to-set sun.  I circled them quickly so that I could see the horizon as it went through the spectrum of colors.

I arrived at the lookout point and was soon joined by many others as we watched the sun set over the dome of Saint Peter’s Basilica.  The jazz band had been replaced by the smooth sound of a nylon string guitarist.  Rome, never one to give up without a fight, battled back against the darkness.  The streets and buildings of the city glowed yellow-orange and hummed electric.

Rome stayed alive as the night began.  My plans this night were far to the north so before the final train ran I walked down the forever flights of stairs to the Flaminio stop.  I saw the last train warning and people scrambling up and down the platform looking in the cars for an open spot.  I knew that getting a seat would be impossible but I was nearly as certain that I would be getting on this train.  I did.

By the time the train reached my stop most of the passengers had deboarded.  When I arrived back at the campground a new adventure had already begun.  I will share that story some other day.  Until then here are some pics from the day’s adventure…

The obelisk in Piazza del Popolo

Bust of Pythagoras

Bust of the wizard Gandalf

“Nobility of Time” by Salvador Dali

“Surrealist Piano” by Salvador Dali

From the Ancient Roman Legend of Batman Versus Superman

Wheel Dancing

Reverse Wheel Dancing

High Flying Wheel Dancing

Statue in the Sun

And now the view on Pincian Hill as the sun sets…

In a Bubble

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From my notes of Day 41: 2/20/2012

I have been staying with Julia and her family for about a week now.  Everyday discussions about gardening, the new Rhodesian Ridgeback pup, and past travel destinations have become comfortable and revealing.  Julia has good ideas, with a proven past, on how to build a community.  She started a weekly yoga class in the one room stone house above the driveway.  There were a dozen or so attendants every week.  After the class was finished there was a social time with baked goods and tea in the house.  Everyone was invited.  There were always a few more people at the social hour than at the class.  I was one of those people.

While the group was working on their chakra I was out on the property working on a garden.   Near the middle of the winding driveway there was a path that led to a few rectangular gardens.  One of them was bisected by an olive tree.  The broad beans that had sprung up under the olive branches weeks earlier were now in danger of dwindling.  Weeds had grown up around them.  The shade of the olive branches deprived them of the sun.  I could not move the olive branches but I could move the weeds and beans.  I have been working on this area when I have had a chance for a couple of days and today I noticed new leaves sprouting on the weeded beans.

Usually when I was working on that garden Rupert would come over and tell me how much better it looked than the last time he saw it.  He would come over and work with me until he was needed somewhere else.  He was always telling me to take breaks when I got bored.  He could never understand how I did not mind working alone.  Today, though, he didn’t come over to that garden.  I was watching a prickly white caterpillar that I had found when I heard him down in the driveway.  I looked over the cliff.  He was on the phone, pacing in short circles.

I could not tell what was wrong.  I went down to the house to see if there was anything I could do.  The class had just finished.  As everyone walked into the house Rupert waited silently.  He explained that Fernando, a member of their community and one of the most experienced construction men around, had been injured in town.  While he was driving in the narrow streets of a nearby village he had clipped the mirror of a parked car.  He knew who the car belonged to and decided it would be best for him to leave with his newborn baby in the back seat before anyone saw him there.

Before Fernando reached the corner the man came out of the carneceria shouting.  He saw Fernando speeding off towards the bend so he got in his car and chased after him.  The mirrorless man and his accompanying convoy encircled Fernando outside of town.  Fernando stopped and tried to talk to the man as they approached his car.  Then a brick pierced his rear window and landed in the seat next to his infant son.  Fernando hit the gas and when he hit the car in front of him he kept the pedal to the floor, trying to push the truck out of the way.  Then his car died.  A gang of men pulled him out of his car, kicking him and beating him with their motorcycle helmets.  They left him in the dirt with his unharmed baby boy in the back seat of the car.  After he regained some strength he drove back to a friend’s house and then went to the hospital.  It sounded like he had a painful, but promising, recovery ahead of him.

I went into the sun room that opens out over the mountain valley.  Wim was in there playing table tennis with someone’s smart young son.  The kid always had an answer for Wim’s seemingly impossible questions.  He was clever but could he play table tennis?  I called the winner.  The speed of Wim’s next backhanded smash across the table froze the youngster.  That was the end of the game.  I was the next challenger.

We never kept score.  We played until we were finished talking about History, Mathematics, and Science.  Some days we only talked about History.  Today we talked about going for a hike around the village.  The game ended soon after with Wim winning.   We grabbed Bubba the Ridgeback and headed up the mountain to the village of Cañar.

Wim attended the school near the top of the mountain when he was younger.  He said there were only about thirty students at the school when he was there.  There are still about thirty students attending the Cañar school.  We passed the “fascist bar” and the Farmacia.  We went into the tapas place in the village and watched a replay of the Valencia V. Madrid soccer match.  We ate different cheeses, olives, and fish along with biscuits and breads.

On our way down the mountain I watched the sun as it neared the horizon.  Wim and Bubba were ahead of me but I was in no hurry.  I was in no hurry, that is, until I remembered that I had not gathered any wood for my burner tonight.  I grimaced with the memory of the last bitter night I had spent without a fire.  I hurried down the decaying mud-board steps.  Wim was almost inside the house.  I told him I would be in shortly.  He did not respond.

After gathering my firewood I went into the house.  Julia was the only one out in the living area.  I sat at the counter with her.  We discussed the usual gardening stuff and Bubba’s escapades.  Then we talked about what had happened to Fernando today.  Then I asked Julia what she thought about politics in Spain.  She told me that she felt the same way about politics in Spain as she did about politics in the rest of the world.  The political systems of the world occur inside a bubble.  She chooses to be outside that bubble.

Rupert joined us and we talked about the books of Tolkien and educational techniques.  Many hours later I stepped out into the darkness of the Sierra Nevada Mountains at night.  It was a short walk to my caravan.  The wolves howled and a dog cried from across the valley.  I started a fire and laid down on my bed.  The cool wind came in gusts through the open door.  Soon the smoke would be clear and I could shut the door.  Instead, I left the door open and let the fresh air in.

This is part of the roof of the yoga house. The other half is not visible from the exterior because it goes into the mountain.

What Bubba does not know is that he is about to go on an adventure.

The white caterpillar I was looking at when I first heard Rupert distressed

The flower-lined path that leads to the mud-board stairs

I Got Robbed in Barcelona

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March 31, 2012

 

A curly haired man in a dirty pink dress came running down the knoll.  He was swinging his arms and shouting at me.  “Stop! Stop!” he insisted as propelled towards me.  When he got near me he jumped in the air and upon his landing was planted squarely in  front of me.

When I arrived at the park with the knoll that afternoon my first sight was a group of performers on slacklines.  They tied the line between two trees to create a kind of lineal trampoline.  I was about to take a picture of one of them when the man in the dirty pink dress came running down the knoll.

“You cannot take that picture.  It is a waste of your time.  It is  a waste to have it on your camera.  You have to wait.  Wait for the man in the black pants.  This is his event and he is the only one worth the time and space.”

After this brief encounter the man walked away.  I stood watching the slackliners.  The man returned and asked if I would like to have a seat with him and his friend on the knoll.  He pointed to the knoll and a dark haired girl wearing a headband with leopard-print ears on top waved to us.

I walked with the man as he told me the first of what would be many interestingly difficult stories.  I sat on the hill where I was introduced to the girl with the leopard-print ears.  As we all listened to the man I got the feeling that sometimes even he was waiting to hear what he would say next.  I gathered that the man was from London and the girl was from somewhere in Sweden.

After watching the man in the black pants we all headed towards the pond so we could rent a boat to float around in for a while.  I took the oars and as I neared a small island the man tried to jump to it.  He hit the muddy side of the steep-shored island and fell to the shallow water below.  He pulled himself up to the dry earth of the tiny, tree covered island.  He tightened the bandages on his foot and tiptoed into the trees.

As he disappeared I heard the furious beating of wings, squawking of fowl, and screaming of the man.  The man jumped off of the island and into the boat as I passed by.  Once I had put some distance between us and the island that was inhabited by the nesting geese we began floating again.

Two old men laughed when the man in the dirty pink dress smiled and asked them if they were looking at him because they thought he was pretty.   He made no attempt to look pretty.  He looked like a guy with a hairy chest and unshaven face who put on a pink dress this morning.  The wound on his foot was badly infected and he often walked with a limp.  He not only walked with a limp, though.  He also skipped, danced, jumped, ran, swam and spun with a limp.  He seemed to know someone in every group of people we passed on the sidewalk and if he didn’t he would get to know someone.  Barcelona was a social event for him.

Before the sun went down I headed back towards my hostel to drop off my bag and valuables.  I was planning to meet my new friends at Placa Real after my brief stop.  When I arrived at my room there were five guys from Germany drinking beer and shouting to the crowds of partiers in the streets below.  As soon as I introduced myself they knew I was from America.  They all told me that they wanted to visit the United States some day.  They asked me a lot of questions about my home country.  We mostly talked about the similarities and differences between real Americans and Americans as portrayed in Hollywood movies.  Bruce Willis and the Die Hard series were a major focal point for the conversation.  I explained to them that almost everyone in America is like Bruce Willis in Die Hard, sort of.

Then they headed to the disco and I headed to the Placa.  Performers juggled and twirled fire.  Merchants did the same with their glow sticks.  I met a group of old women selling pottery to fund their travels and a team of Brazilian football players.  Shopping cart races were being held in one corner of the Placa while the football game was in another.

I stayed for a few hours and then I thanked my new friends for showing me a side of Barcelona I could never have found by myself.  As I left the Placa I thought about where this adventure had started.  I had been watching a few people jump on a rope when a man in a dirty pink dress came charging at me.  I spent the rest of the day making great friends and having great fun.  I was only a few miles from my hostel so I hopped on the open footpath by the water and headed off towards my room.

Oh yeah, then I got mugged by twelve unarmed prostitutes at the end of La Rambla.

Here are some pictures from this adventure…

On Gran Via

Fountain on Gran Via

Statue on Gran Via

Barcelona’s Arc de Triomf

The Castle of the Three Dragons in Ciutadella Park (the park with the knoll)

Sculpture in Ciutadella Park

The Fountain of Ciutadella Park

Looking out from the fountain. In the distance is the pond.

The man in the dirty pink dress.

But This Is Rome!

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May 11, 2011

I woke up this morning hungry for adventure.  Today was my first day in Rome.  I had seen Roman and Romanesque statues, plazas, and architecture throughout Europe.  Croatia was home to an impressive Roman palace.  The ruins of a Roman Amphitheater in Ancona, Italy gave me a glimpse into public life in first century central Italy but this was Rome.  This was where The Empire began. My morning began with a quick metro trip from my campground on the Tiber River to Piazza de Popolo.  I stepped out of the station and Rome towered before me…

This is the northern gate of The Aurelian Wall, which stands at the entrance of Piazza de Popolo.

Inside the Piazza de Popolo a stage was being erected for use at a voting rally later that evening.  I was walking to the opposite side of the open plaza to admire Giovanni Ceccarini’s Fountain of Neptune when I heard a loud thud and a squeal.  Behind me the rally’s sound man was starting a mic check.  Italian words crashed against the marble walls across the plaza and came racing back at the God of the Sea and I.  Then the echos increased in frequency as they bombarded us from all directions.

Behind me is the Piazza de Popolo.

The Fountain of Neptune

As I neared the southern end of the piazza I had to make a decision:  Which street do I take?  I had never been to Rome but I had a general idea of where the Pantheon was located so I headed down the Via del Corso.  Many hours later I realized just how general of an idea I had about the location of the ancient Roman temple. As I wandered the unfamiliar streets I came upon a familiar sound.  It was the buzz of activity that accompanies street performers and artists across Europe.  It was the salesman and the tourists who followed them everywhere.  It was the sound that becomes comforting to adventurers like myself.  It meant that I was almost guaranteed to see something unique and unforgettable.  When I walked into Piazza Navona I got all of those things…

In the foreground is an ancient Egyptian obelisk atop The Fountain of the Four Rivers. In the background is the Church of Saint Agnes.

Ganges, the River God, on The Fountain of the Four Rivers.

The base of the Fountain of Four Rivers in Piazza Navona.

I left Piazza Navona having forgotten what I was looking for.  I wandered the streets until they turned into tiny alleys that hid from the buzz of Rome.  One path ended abruptly so I turned around and headed right.  I was poured out of the cramped alley into another plaza.  This plaza seemed more familiar than the others.  At the far end of it there was a dome.  I had seen this dome many times before.  It was in every book that I had ever read about Rome and appeared on half of the covers.  This was The Pantheon.

I circled the temple twice, respecting the ruins and revering the renovations.  Then I stood inside the portico.  I looked up at the massive slabs of granite and out at the piazza.  I thought about how many times I had seen The Pantheon.  It was probably in the thousands.  I had seen every angle of the exterior.  I had even seen some of the artworks that decorate the interior but I had never imagined seeing it like this, on the inside looking out.  After savoring that thought for a moment I stepped inside.  This is what I saw…

EPIC.

The natural light beaming from The Pantheon’s open dome gives life to the statues below.

One of the lively statues.

Two of the most abundant resources Rome has to offer: marble statues and oil paintings.

Here lies Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino, better known to the world simply as “Raphael.”

I left The Pantheon and thought, “now what?”  I had seen one of the most famous historical monuments in the world after wandering through a town made of marble and gold.  All this and it was barely noon.  I thought about what I had gone through to get here; the work, the research, the sleepless nights on buses, the terror that occasionally struck when I was in the streets of a new city after dark with no hope of a warm bed.  I thought about how great it was to be here and how I would do it all again just for a chance to see my next “Pantheon.”  I smirked at the world as I reentered the narrow alleys that had brought me to this place.  I headed east and hoped to find The Vatican before sundown.

Well, this was my first Roman adventure.  I hope you enjoyed it.  I will share the rest of this day, and the weeks that followed, in the near future.  Until then…