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Realizing half my photos of Rome featured preserved body parts or giant murder tableaus, I decided to highlight just the creepy stuff at the Vatican Museums.

Here we have a classic image: the Virgin Mary and the Christ Child.

But why is she giving you saucy eyes? And why does baby Jesus look like he’s coming down from the mother of all hangovers?

He’s definitely pointing at that kid’s wonky eyes. They look like the cover of Aenima.

Was this a normal thing for saints? The Devil just popping up all the time for them to throw their comb at or use as a footstool? Then again, he’s probably just making it look easy; that’s how you get to be a saint.

One of many black on black paintings in dim rooms featuring Irene of Rome pulling an arrow out of Saint Sebastian’s arm. Fun fact: being plugged “till he was as full of arrows as an urchin”, the traditional artistic depiction of St. Sebastian, is NOT what killed him! No, he miraculously survived that, then decided to march right up to the emperor and personally criticize him, whereupon he was clubbed to death.

Speaking of patently bad ideas, here, if memory serves, is a triptych featuring St. Christina of Persia with a pal telling the locals what for.

And here she is about to be scourged to death; a pretty standard A->B sequence:

But the joke’s on them! Her god is a vengeful God and He does smite His enemies…with fire!

Speaking of God’s enemies, here’s an unflattering portrait of Salome and her mom holding the head of John the Baptist while looking around all shady-like.

There was no shortage of beheadings in this museum.

Time for a breather! Here’s a much friendlier take on the Virgin and Child. Just ignore the blatantly pagan crescent moon and putti head-crushing.

BACK TO THE GORE. I believe this is St. Ignatius of Antioch being disemboweled by Roman soldiers.

Check out the detailing on those intestines.

Here is someone, possibly St. Bartholomew who was so closely associated with his martyrdom by skin-flaying he was usually pictured holding a flaying knife, being flayed.

And finally, the piece de la resistance, a full, wall-sized Flemish tapestry depicting the Massacre of the Innocents in all its bloody, baby-murdering glory.

Right down to the beautifully woven baby brains. Catholicism!

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Envisioning your trip to Rome, you may picture yourself swanning around from swanky club to fancy party, devil-may-care, looking like this:

…when in a city where even the police uniforms are impeccably tailored and you’re from the country that invented the X-Treme Gulp, they picture you like this:

That’s the unfortunate reality in Rome; no matter how hard you try, you are a tourist. It’s surprising how similar New York City and Rome are in that respect; many people who live and work in both cities come from somewhere else, and yet the constant influx of more temporal visitors turns the ‘locals’ against them. New Yorkers are more defensive about it; one of the rudest insults you can say to someone who lives here is they’re acting like a tourist. It’s why most people who pay too much to stay in NYC still haven’t seen the Empire State Building or Ellis Island, and avoid Times Square like the plague. ‘That’s not New York’, they say, and yet it is. If I went to Rome and studiously avoided every famous landmark, would that mean I’d really gone to Rome somehow?

Being from the city where genuine excitement equals lameness made being a tourist all the more acutely painful – now I was the out-of-town yokel impressed by the 45th street Sunglass Hut (true story; the whole beflip-flopped family stopped dead in their tracks and pointed like Jesus just appeared). What’s worse, I was surrounded by thousands of the above stereotypes in the flesh, sandals, socks, visors and all. Were sharp-dressed Romans looking at the swarming mass and lumping me in with them? Probably not because they were on their way to work and/or didn’t care. My ego competes only with my paranoia in scope and size.

Still, the New Yorker in me shuddered to think, and remained irritated by the slow-moving, gawky crowds despite being one of them. One of our early stops was the famous Trevi Fountain:

Surprisingly not pictured: A MILLION PEOPLE, including numerous Nigerian and Indonesian men selling balls that would splat and reform, glowsticks, and something you could stick in your mouth to make irritating duck noises. I have no idea how every single person vying for a photo opportunity with lenses rivaling the Hubble’s sticking hither and yon managed to avoid my framing. And this was at night, during moderate rain; I hate to imagine what the crowd’s like on a pleasant day. I was going to say the surrounding circus cheapened the fountain’s beauty, but look at it. It’s a giant, over-the-top baroque fountain. If anything the circus atmosphere sort of heightened its original intent of being a ridiculously ornate fountain.

As stated previously, it felt useless trying to capture well-lit images, forget the emotional grandeur, of most tourist areas. Instead I focused on smaller, more tangible details like these love-locks. They’re usually found in abundance on well-trod bridges; romantic couples click a lock on something and toss the key into the water to symbolize as literally as possible their eternal, undying, thief-proof love. These were tucked far up in a darkened corner of an ornate wave-swirl, hidden away in plain sight.

Seriously. Baroque. Let’s just have the sculpture look like a jagged rock with a root growing a shield with a lion on it as one tiny fraction of the whole shebang, because why not. And throw some tassels in there while you’re at it.

A few days later, Angry Jim and I decided to brave the crowds at the Spanish Steps.

Jim was not impressed.
And understandably so! They’re steps. Maybe if they weren’t covered in a thousand tired families yelling to each other I could perhaps walk down them quietly musing on the famous footsteps that once trod the same. Or I could buy a fake PRADA purse; there were plenty enough sellers shouting about that too.

Now THIS is a fountain. It’s also a half-submerged boat! Whee, baroque!

And what awaits you at the top of the fabled steps? More fake PRADA-pushers. Also a church, because I think Roman law states it’s illegal to go 10 steps without being able to run in somewhere and confess your sins.

Inside the church confused tourists milled about, perhaps expecting some sort of light show about the steps they just walked up. Per historical custom important members of the church were buried as close to the alter as possible, so everyone walked over decades of Medieval Roman high society, not that many seemed to notice.

Not noticing was fairly understandable; the markers were of the same marble as the rest of the floor and most were worn down to illegibility from thousands of feet shuffling over them every day. I’m sure there’s something very deep to write about the juxtaposition of tourist feet wearing away that which marked a local’s hopes for the eternal, but that’s why a picture’s worth a thousand words.

What do you think, horned Moses?

S’aright? “S’aright!”

We missed the Bocca della Verita the first few times around, as I expected it out in the open (as seen in ‘Roman Holiday’). Where a buck can be squeezed, so it shall be, and the Bocca was no exception. Hidden at the end of a gated atrium, tourists can queue up and ‘donate’ a few euro to take their picture in front of the face, and if they feel like it check out the church it’s attached to. Jim and I were so peeved at this blatant tourist tax we took pictures of other people taking pictures instead. This greatly confused the man directing the line.

The church itself was no small shakes; the Basilica di Santa Maria in Cosmedin is an older church (which is saying something in a city featuring the Coliseum) in a mostly Byzantine style, with layers of history visible on its walls from the various era’s restorations.

Plus, for another euro, you could check out a crypt where they kept…someone….someone important…I forget, maybe Constantin? Hey, there were a lot of crypts and saints and historical personages to remember.


AAAAAAAAAH! DEAAAAAAAAAAAATH! Yes, look over your guidebooks young ladies. There’s nothing in there on stopping the inevitable reaping of each and every one of you.

And right across the street from all this history, more history! This is a Roman mini-temple to a minor deity. The god of proper turn signals or something.

As we delighted in walking past crumbly ruins in the bright sun, a noise so vulgar and familiar I didn’t even register it snuck up behind us. Yes, this is why that caricature above is how Italians see us: a pile of American tourists zipping by on SEGWAYS shouting at the top of their lungs.

To forcibly prevent me from lunging at them, Jim suggested we walk around soaking in some more history. After a bit, we knew we were in the vicinity of the Pantheon but were shocked to see it right there after turning a corner.

(It’s right there!) This church has been in constant use since Roman times, with the only big change being a statue rotation from Roman gods to Catholic saints. IT’S SO OLD! Also quite well-preserved, and filled with famous folk, but more on that later. This was one of the few places so stunning on its own the horde of shouting, shoving, cell-phone waving tourists from all parts of the globe couldn’t diminish it.

Out in front, a Tom Waits fountain.

NO HANDRAIL?!?! Oh, Il Vittoriano, that is the least of your tacky, tacky problems.

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Nearly 4 months after making the trip, I’ve just finished sorting through my myriad pictures of Rome. It may seem odd to start not with famous monuments, classic art or sacred statuary but with something considered vandalism by most every country in the world. However, as Al Burian put it, “Rome is eternal, and I am not – just an inky blot, another infinitesimal blip of light on a schizophrenic map.”

When I was there, taking photos of ‘classic’ Rome seemed not only pointless but downright stupid – these places had and have been and will be drawn and photographed thousands upon thousands of times, with every different variety of camera and hand behind them in every type of weather and light. Me and my trusty Canon Elph point-n-shoot felt very small and useless trying to capture something about these places that hadn’t been captured before. The only things I could think of were to occasionally shove my travel buddy (Mr. Angry Jim) into the frame, since he’d never been to Rome either, or to focus on strange, tiny ephemeral details, like graffiti.

Rome’s graffiti ‘problem’ is modern, with the government recently cracking down hard on tagging and stickering. Rome’s graffiti, however, is ancient. How ancient? THEY INVENTED THE WORD. ‘Graffiti’ (singular, ‘graffito’) meaning ‘tiny scratches’, was used to describe the inscriptions, drawings, names and doodles carved into public monuments, catacombs and buildings around the city. The term was later extended to other forms of public marking, and though not quite the same has occasionally referred to Rome’s ‘talking statues’, points of public bulletin for pasting anonymous critiques of those in power. They even have anti-graffiti-graffiti dating back to Ancient Rome.

Which is to say, most of Rome is so ancient, so suffused with history and grandeur that you, a singular, limited human, are easily overwhelmed and dwarfed by the sheer magnitude of its presence. Graffiti, however, even the ancient stuff, is human-scaled. The personality behind it is there in the style and message. It’s one person speaking across time to another person seeing it, and for the two weeks I spent rushing around the Eternal City feeling rather ephemeral and (especially in tourist-suffused areas) out-of-touch, I was grateful for every word, even the rude ones.

This was my favorite tag; I’m not sure why but a giant scrawled ‘PARDON ME!’ in a public area struck me as hilarious.

Literally translated: “At ease in explosive situation.”

Wheat-pasting for an Italian cowboy comic in the Trastaverde area.

Homer! (said with Italian accento)

In Italian…

…and the English translation.

Really? Weren’t you guys sick of that back in WWII?

Apparently some Romans are also still living the plot of ‘Quadrophenia’.

Right across the street from Piazza di San Pietro.

Not even THAT ancient.

Berlusconi’s face was stickered everywhere, along with wheat-pasted into some very entertaining posters of him with photo-face and cartoon body sweeping bikini babes under a rug. Of course, I neglected to take a photo of that.

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Ah, two glorious weeks in beautiful, historic Rome followed by a return to the City That Never Sleeps. And what better to show the transition from one iconic city to the other than Cher’s ‘Believe’?

An American icon helping eurotrashy club kids sort of not fall in love or jump off buildings, possibly with the aid of glowing soul-transference. It’s a classic story! Is the jet-lag showing? I think it might be.

Who should cover Cher's 'Believe'?

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The question came up walking along a highway on one of Rome’s ‘sidewalks’, stingy strips of pavement barely wide enough to step on, as we tried to avoid getting clipped by mopeds and Citroëns. Stephen Merritt was also suggested, but two gay men potentially covering Cher is toeing the stereotype line already.

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This will be the last Free Pattern Friday for the next two weeks -I’m blowing this popsicle stand and heading to the Eternal City. That’s right, I’m going on spring break in ROME! SPRING BREAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAK,YEAH! I’ll either be getting very rowdy or face existential crises while looking my sharpest. Why Rome? It’s got the most history crammed into the smallest space for your euro, plus they have way better coffee than Paris.

For anyone else gearing up for a visit, do not do what I did and watch the following movies:

‘Mamma Roma’ (Pier Paolo Passolini) – a bleak tale of a mother willing to sacrifice everything for love of her son in poor, postwar Rome. It does not go so well.

‘The Bicycle Theif’ (Vittorio DeSica) – a bleak tale of one man’s quest to get back the bicycle on which his and his family’s livelihood depends. It does not go so well.

‘La Strada’ (Frederico Fellini) – a naîve young girl joins a man in a traveling roadshow, bearing his many cruelties. It does not go so well.

“La Dolce Vida’ (Frederico Fellini) – a jaded newspaper writer hangs out with a bunch of nihilistic rich hedonists as they try not to stare too hard at the void in their lives. It does not go so well.

Each film painted a more harrowing picture than the next. So instead of a long, dark journey into night, I recommend watching ‘Roman Holiday’, starring the always-charming Audrey Hepburn.

It highlights the beauty of Rome without using it as a backdrop for humanity’s cruelties, though it is sort of bittersweet. This week’s pattern is the sort of dress she might wear if she had another day free to wander. Well, she doesn’t because she’s a princess and they have responsibilities, dammit. But you can whip this up and trot about to your heart’s content!

Molto Bene!

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