Monday: Villa Farnesina, The Mouth of Truth, Tiber Island, the Jewish Ghetto and finally…the Magic

It was another exhausting day in Rome, but at least we avoided some of yesterday's pitfalls. We are finding it easiest to catch a taxi to our meeting place with Jose. There is a cab stand very close to our apartment, and we have always found them ready and waiting. It's a little more expensive than using public transportation, but it's a good way to get exactly where you want to go quickly and without the threat of pickpockets. Traffic is crazy in Rome, but the cab drivers are masters. They seem to make lanes where there are none. They dodge pedestrians, buses, and motorcycles with ease. It's scary as all-get-out for us, but it's all in a day's work for them. Genene is either jaded or ignorant, because she nods off almost every time we get in the cab, while Greg and I hold on for dear life with white knuckles.

This morning, Jose suggested that we meet at Villa Farnesina to see the frescoes of Raphael. Given to our own devices, Greg and I would never have chosen this venue, and we would have missed so much. It is a beautiful place, and perhaps best of all, it is not crowded. Art can be observed and lingered over, as it was meant to be.


The villa was commissioned during the Renaissance by a Sienese banker name Agostino Chigi. Like most rich people, he wanted to show off, and the interior is richly decorated with frescoes. One of the rooms, the Loggia of Galatea, shows all of the astrological signs as they were on Chigi's birthday. Talk about your ego. I borrowed a fish-eye camera lens from a friend (thanks, Bryan), and it is a very handy tool to give you an idea about the size and intricacy of the ceilings.


Genene was intrigued by the story of the beautiful nymph Galatea, shown below with her entourage.

The one-eyed giant Polyphemus took one look at her and fell in love, but she wasn't interested. It's tough be be a giant. Below is the fresco of him, looking to his left at the fresco of Galatea.

In addition to the zodiac and the story of Galatea, there were other mythological events being depicted in various smaller hexagrams. One of Genene's favorites was Hercules battling a lion, bare-handed (and bare-butted). Look out for those claws, Herc!

In the next room is The Loggia of Cupid and Psyche, also painted by Raphael. It tells the story of Cupid falling in love with the mortal Psyche and all the trials and tribulations they went through before the happy-marriage ending. (That's where the fun really starts!) Jose had promised us that he enjoyed mythology and would teach Genene, and his stories helped to bring the pictures to life for her. The room is beside the gardens and is intended to evoke the effect of garlands and tapestries. Below is the broad view.

And one close-up follows. This entire fresco had an erotic sub-text. Can you spot the male and female “members” in the garland? (Hint: sometimes, a carrot isn't just a carrot.)

I wish I could just keep showing these frescoes because they are truly beautiful. What we really enjoyed is that there were NO crowds here, just a few people wandering in and out. It was a great way to look at art, with a passionate guide to make it all real for us.

We came back to the apartment, and in true Roman fashion, we had lunch and took a long siesta. It is brutally hot in midday, so it pays to sleep through it all and come back in the late day. We woke up just in time to meet up with Jose for the afternoon walk. We were to start at a place that had captured Genene's imagination since she heard about it, The Mouth of Truth.

We always try to watch some movies to get ourselves in the mood for a vacation, and of course, one of my old favorites was “Roman Holiday.” (Who wouldn't want to get on the back of a Vespa with Gregory Peck?) Genene watched it too and was intrigued. If you have never seen the movie and want to see the Mouth of Truth scene, you can check it out through the magic of You Tube by clicking here. The Bocca della Verita is located in the entryway of Santa Maria in Cosmedin. Legend has it that if you are a liar and you stick your hand into the mouth, your hand will be bitten off. Genene was very excited, but she insisted that I go first. I made it out fine, proving that the thing is defective.

It was Genene's turn next, and she got very apprehensive. She made her dad come stand beside her, and it took a lot of persuading to get this shot. In the end, she cried a little bit because she was disappointed that she was too scared to put her hand all the way in. I think she got close enough, but we may have to go back.

Greg stuck his hand down almost as far as Gregory Peck, and he made it out too.

Jose was waiting for us inside the church, where we wiped Genene's tears, laughed a little and gathered ourselves for a walk.

We went by the Temple of Hercules, the Circus Maximus, the Jewish Ghetto, Tiber Island, and on and on and on. Again, the words fail me. It is too much. I will simply show you some of the shots I got during our little stroll.

We said goodbye to Jose and caught a cab back to our apartment. Tomorrow will be a free day, for which we are grateful. We need some down time to do laundry, sleep late, relax and process what we have seen.

Tonight, we went to a pizza place in the neighborhood suggested by Jose, and it was wonderful. The pizzas are made with a very thin crispy crust, and the ingredients are simple and delicious. We enjoyed it, but it had been a long day and we were grumpy with each other and ready to go to bed. It was then that the magic happened.

Our apartment is very near the Spanish Steps, so we stroll by them a lot. As we walked up Via Condotti, we could hear the music. I could kick myself because I did not bring my camera and have no photos. What we stumbled upon on Monday night in the middle of Rome on the Spanish Steps was an operatic concert and dancing troupe, and it was a professional production, complete with stage lighting and speakers. The audience was seated on the Spanish Steps, and it was packed. We walked up from behind and got right up to the fountain, with the players and singers across the fountain from us. A nice Italian woman gave Genene a seat on the fountain's edge. She whispered, “We have the best seats in the house.” (and we did). Genene sat enthralled watching the spectacle and listening to the beautiful music in that beautiful place. There were two women, two men, and a group of six dancers. They sang classical opera like Carmen. They also tossed in other beauties, like “Moon River”, “La Vie en Rose.” As I have said in earlier blogs, I have been overwhelmed. I have already seen so much and really been amazed…..but tonight was the first night I felt the magic.

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