Italy: Day Five, Thurs 3/29/18 (Rome)
Breakfast wasn’t very interesting at this place, I won’t bore you with the details. This was the day that we got a tour of the Pontifical North American College. Have you seen *The Making of a Murderer,* the Netflix documentary series about Steven Avery, the Wisconsin man who served eighteen years in prison and ended up being fully exonerated by DNA evidence? Avery had two defense attorneys, and my brother Patrick works with one of them, Jerome Buting (the taller of the two, for those of you who know the show). Buting’s son, Stephen Buting, is a student at the Pontifical North American College, and Patrick, through the father, got us in touch with him.
We had arranged to meet him at the seminary at 10:00 AM. We found it on the map and it looked to be about a ten-minute walk from our hotel, so we gave ourselves twenty minutes, just to be safe. We asked the desk clerk the best way to get there, and she said, “You know that tunnel that goes under the road? Well, instead of going all the way through, take the exit on the right in the middle part, and the street is upstairs from there.” Sounds pretty easy, right?
We took the side exit which led to what appeared to be a bus station. There were many signs marked “uscita” (exit), but none of them seemed to actually lead out of the building. We eventually ran into a mob of about fifty American high schoolers and decided to follow them, clearly they must be going SOMEWHERE. We got above ground, but not really near our destination. We made a few more wrong turns, but thankfully also a few right ones, walked up a few hills and up some semi-rubbled sets of stairs. We arrived about ten minutes late and Stephen was there at the entrance waiting for us.
Here he is showing us the crest of the school:
He gave us a thorough, fascinating, and informative tour. He was very patient with our (somewhat idiotic) questions. The seminary is dedicated to Mary, and I was most interested in her. Stephen explained the concept of the immaculate conception in a way that I was able to understand - - it’s not just about Jesus being an immaculate birth, it’s also about how Mary herself was born free of sin. I asked Stephen if Mary was aware that she was special, or if it was a surprise when the angel Gabriel told her that she was pregnant with Jesus. Stephen said that he thinks of the little girl Mary as being with the other little kids, and maybe they’re looking at a tray of cookies on the counter in the kitchen. The other kids want to take a cookie, even though they know it’s wrong, but Mary isn’t tempted and is puzzled that they would be. “I’ll have a cookie later, when it’s given to me. Duh!” I’m paraphrasing. I loved the intensely Wisconsin flavor of this analogy.
We walked down a hallway and I noticed many 20th century portraits of men in ecclesiastical vestments. I stopped in front of one of them and said, “Oh wow! It’s Cardinal Spellman! He’s the uncle of a friend of mine.” Stephen was tickled by that, and he knew quite a lot about Spellman, or Uncle Frank, as my friend calls him.
The front of the seminary was supposed to face the street, but in the 1950s, when this particular building was constructed, they were prevented from drilling a hole in a wall to let trucks pull up to the building. As Stephen said, “Come on, the wall is only 1700 years old, and the hole only has to be big enough for a truck! What’s the big deal?”
He showed us the chapel, which has an intense mid-century vibe, with its faux Chagall paintings. Stephen talked us through sculptures depicting the seven sacraments, with a bonus eighth sacrament (preaching).
We went up to the roof, which has a fantastic view of the city. Stephen asked a student from Austin, Texas to take our picture.
And Stephen took a picture of me and Richard:
We were with Stephen for just over an hour. He was such a sweet guy and so generous with his knowledge and his time. We promised that we would look him up if we come back to Rome while he’s still there, and we asked him to let us know if he comes to New York. It’s also possible that I could see him in Wisconsin, where he spends his summers.
We walked over to the Hop On/Hop Off stop and took it over to the Colosseum neighborhood.
The interesting thing about using the Hop On/Hop Off bus as your primary mode of transport is that you see a lot of the city, but you see the same fifty sights over and over again.
The Colosseum was a colossal waste of time! We got off the bus and walked 15 minutes to the spot we were told to go to, then another 10 minutes to the NEXT spot. We waited a half hour in line (and this was in the “skip the line” line) to get a timed ticket for two hours from then. And then, in the final application of sand up my buttcrack, I had to wait 15 minutes for the BATHROOM. They have two one-seater bathrooms, can you imagine? Is this a major international tourist attraction, or a medium-sized diner with 15-20 tables?
We walked around what might have been the Forum, the signage wasn’t clear. Neither was it clear where the walkways were, we were often walking on what may have been 2000-year-old stones. Which should have been exciting, right?
You can see what a glorious day it was - - we were very lucky, we had great weather the whole trip.
We still had an hour to waste so we went to the Colosseum train station and got two tomato and mozzarella paninis and a couple of bottles of water. Of course a slice of tomato fell to the floor the moment I took mine out of its wrapper, which I deliberately did not let bother me.
Our tickets were for 3:30, so we thought we’d get in the security line at 3:00. The line moved faster than we thought, and we tried checking in at 3:10, but of course that didn’t fly. We weren’t able to go in until 3:30 on the nose. Not 3:29, I tried!
On the one hand, the Colosseum is very large and impressive. Very large, very old, very iconic. But on the other hand, it was a major anticlimax after all of that waiting around. I have just a touch of the claustrophobia that runs in my father’s family (my Grandma Ryan wasn’t able to drink out of a tall glass, for fear of falling in - - and she was a substantial woman, it’s hard to imagine her falling into a glass), but I was feeling it there, it was so crowded and unpleasant. We were in the building for less than twenty minutes.
We walked back to the street and weren’t able to figure out how to get an Uber - - it was asking us to choose which one we wanted and where we wanted to meet it, it was very confusing. We took a cab. Richard checked his phone and got a text from Michele, saying that he had hoped to come to Rome to see us that night, but that didn’t pan out, so instead they made us a reservation at a restaurant near our hotel, La Veranda.
Here’s how I wrote about it on tripadvisor the next day:
Five stars out of five
“My husband and I are on vacation in Rome and a friend sent us to La Veranda. It was one of the highlights of the trip, such a beautiful restaurant, spectacular food, and stellar service.
“We couldn’t decide on a first course, so we got three. Ricotta and semi-dried tomatoes, sardines and butter on crostini, and mortadella served with a sharp, hard cheese and (would you believe) a few blueberries. All of it sublime.
“My main course was amatriciana in a dreamy tomato sauce with bits of crispy, spicy bacon. My husband had lamb shanks with sautéed vegetables. Incredible.
“We finished with coffee ice cream served with pretty little meringues and a molten chocolate cake swimming in creamy sauce.
“Oh dear Lord, it was such an incredible meal, really and truly one of the best of my life.”
And this extraordinary meal was made even more extraordinary when we found out that Michele and Marco had paid the check. Thank you, guys!
We arrived back at the hotel and I wanted to take a picture of the old school *The King's Speech*-style elevator. As an added bonus, you can see how much sun Richard got that day.