Rome Diaries - Week 48

From 2006 to 2011 Paulist Father Tom Holahan served as vice rector of the Paulist church in Rome. During that time he had the opportunity to spend time exploring the historic sites of Rome as well as the hidden ones. The blog features excerpts from this travel diary. A new selection appears each week.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

February 23, 2008

Israel -- Our superb tour guide plans to send a chalice and stole back to Rome with our group. We pledge to deliver it to the pope’s secretary. A letter will accompany the gift which identifies the donor as “a Roman Catholic citizen of Jerusalem.” Really, it is all you have to say because being such a citizen is full of difficulties and dangers. One of the key concerns of the Vatican is to maintain and expand the rights of Christians in these lands. I am sure the pope will respond with a personal note.


February 29, 2008

I take the metro to EUR to continue my explorations of the vast site of an international fair that never was. Mussolini’s buildings stand out as somber and expensively-made testaments to the fantasy of a future modern Roman Empire. The site of a great pylon, symbolizing Marconi’s radio tower, was intended to be the largest ancient obelisk from Axum in Ethiopia, which Italy occupied from 1935 to the end of World War II. Now Italian corporations like A.N.I. and government bureaucracies have built office towers in a bland International-style and fit in perfectly to a plan that is still has empty lots 70 years after its approval. Today I take a good look at the Palace of Italian Civilization, which was eerily anticipated by surrealist Giorgio de Chirico (he made the relentlessly repeated Roman arch seem menacing). Right now the structure is closed for internal renovations, but its imperious façade will remain intact, a fascist memory. A walk down a tree-lined street reveals Bauhaus-style apartments. I begin to think that EUR has mellowed into a very attractive place. Viale Europa, a cosmopolitan thoroughfare that links Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul with the National Archives, could be mistaken for Paris. The Basilica was to have held the opening and closing religious ceremonies of the cancelled exposition. It is now a parish church, sitting in grandiose splendor on its own hill, topped by one of the largest cement domes anywhere. Pier Luigi Nervi designed a 15,000 seat sports arena in 1956 for the 1960 summer Olympics. It’s holds a commanding perch above an artificial lake but has such clean lines of glass and steel that it seems to hover over EUR like a visiting space ship. The more I come to this vaguely haunted place, the better I like its eccentric style and hollow vision of glory. Back in central Rome, I stop at the Trevi Fountain and am rewarded by the sight of a new busker. He positions himself between a wrought iron lamp and a street Madonna and is strikingly dressed in a black cavalier’s costume, his every feature painted in matte black so that he looks like a perfect statue. When a coin is proffered, the “statue” makes a show of trying to shake your hand and missing….cell phone cameras click non-stop. Such a circus act would be banned in EUR.