Homa from Roma and Italian pneumonia

Gracious a lot has happened since last Thursday… Let’s see, where to begin.

Well, Thursday night was pretty atrocious actually, because I couldn’t sleep for whatever reason so I took some generic brand Simply Sleep (which is a Tylenol Brand Tylenol PM, without the pain killer… “non-habit forming and safe”…) which I have taken before, and it’s not dangerous at all, just a generic, drugstore sleep aid. Anyway, it didn’t sit so well with me for whatever reason and I ended getting sick all night until about 4 am. The bad part was that our train to Rome was to leave at 7:24 and we weren’t really sure which bus to take to the train station, how to get our tickets, etc. So we got up around 6:30 (already a bad start) and headed to the bus station.

Now, the bus station is interesting… all Italian bus systems seem complicated until you understand them, and unfortunately at this point we hadn’t taken a bus anywhere yet- just walked. But the stazione (train station) is at the bottom of the hill and the prospect of taking luggage down there is just… silly. Again, by hill, I mean paved mountain. So we get to the bus station around 6:45 and it is still very dark outside. The ticket stand wasn’t open, but we saw a bus full of some of our American friends who were also hopping on trains. However, the bus had no driver so we waited. And waited. And waited. Finally a driver showed up and we bought tickets- well, some of us- the thing is, you only have to buy a ticket in case someone asks to see it, which they usually won’t, but if they do and you don’t have one, you a) get yelled at by the Caribinieri (like.. a state trooper kind of) and b) have to pay 30 euro. Neither one is pleasant I’m sure. So we bought our tickets but didn’t get to the train station until 7:21. Well, we had bought our train tickets online (very cheap) and planned on electronic pick up but the machines for that weren’t on, so we had to try and explain to the employees, in a mix of terrible Italian and groggy English, that we couldn’t get our tickets. They didn’t understand but finally they figured it out. Well, by this time, we’d missed our train so they put us on another one. So we go outside to wait on the platform and then, in Italian, a recording came on over and over that kept repeating the time of our train, the number of our train, the destination… and at the end, an apology… but we couldn’t understand the rest. Finally our train disappeared from the boards and we realized it had been cancelled… so we had to go BACK inside to the people who hated us already, and they eventually just gave us some generic tickets that said no times or train numbers and said it was good for any train, anytime, that day. And they gave us some money back. They basically paid us to get on a train, any train, and leave them alone. So, we did. And we made it to Rome.

So, Rome. My roommate Kelley’s family friends live in Rome, they are Italian, and the daughter, Angelica, who is 19, came to pick us up at Roma Termini stazione. Huge. We took a bus to their home in central Rome (beautiful), and rode past amazing things like the Colisseum and Piazza Navona, but unfortunately the big fountain was under construction so we didn’t get to see it. Anyway, we went to the family’s house and made some pasta and relaxed for a minute. The family has a friend who owns a few apartments that he rents out, and we happened to be in Rome when he was between tenants, so they gave us a free room. Small, but good for our purposes. So we went to our apartment in central Rome, and the girls discussed going out and walking around. However, I wasn’t feeling well– dizzy, clammy, etc etc, and decided to lie down.

When they got back, we went to the family’s house for dinner– well!!! What a meal. First, we had plate after plate of breads and cheeses, and then Elisabetta, the mother, put a huge bowl of mushroom ravioli on the table. I always forget that this is just the prima piatta, or the first course. After that, she put down another huge dish of homemade meat loaf and patatine frittes (fried potatoes… always in Italian meals) and then when she found out that one of my roommates, Ren, and I are vegetarians, she put down another plate of cheese with the best ricotta, brie, and gouda I’ve ever had. So then we ate that. And salad. And dessert. And caffe. So anyway, then their kids and the girls wanted to go out but again I felt terrible so they went out to a wine bar and I went to the apartment and went to sleep.

The next morning, we got up early and I was contemplating heading back to Perugia but decided it would be best to just suck it up and stay. So we walked to Vatican City– a LONG walk– along the Tiber River, which was stunningly beautiful, especially in the morning sunlight. There is a sidewalk that runs along the river, but up above it, and you look down and see the sparkling water on your left and on your right is this beautiful row of thick, old, pale trees. I wish I knew what kind they were. Anyway, we were still quite sleepy but made it to Vatican City, and when we got to the piazza in front of San Pietro, we all just sort of stopped and took it in. They still had a huge manger scene up in the piazza… it was stunningly gorgeous, life-size– I mean, try to imagine who would do the best manger scene in the world– just a guess, but probably the Vatican. Anyway, it was just gorgeous because of the huge, white columns all around the piazza, with San Pietro in the background and this manger scene… amazing. Anyway, so we waited in line to go through security and then went into San Pietro (St. Peter’s basilica, in case you haven’t picked up on it). So, you go into St. Peter’s and follow these ropes, and you have the choice to either go to the tombs or the cupola, and we hadn’t really done our reading and didn’t know what to do, so I said, let’s do the cupola, because there will probably be a pretty view. Well, first of all, you have to pay 7 euro to take the elevator up, and then there is a sign that says NOTICE: and something about having to climb 320 stairs even after the elevator. Well, 320 stairs– not so bad, right? Heh. Heh.

Well, let’s keep in mind here that I’m still feeling pretty crappy, I haven’t had any coffee or food yet (all of this is just a bad situation). So first, when you get off the elevator, you end up pretty high up, still inside the actual basilica, and it is gorgeous, looking down on the sanctuary part of it and up at the dome. Beautiful. Impossible to describe, really. The walls are tiled with these tiny, tiny pieces of… porcelain, I guess, into stunning art all the way around. So I’m starting to get a little woozy being so high up, and we didn’t see any stairs, so we said, hum, well, I guess this is the top and we don’t have to take any stairs. Ha. Well, we followed the traffic around and came upon a small doorway, and alas, a spiral staircase. So we start climbing. And climbing. And climbing. And climbing. And the spiral is getting smaller. And smaller. And smaller. Finally we come to a landing, and duck into a little window area and breathe for a second. We go up a few more stairs, and there’s another landing. Now we are in the actual dome. The walls are slanted. We are standing straight. So, yes, a bit disorienting. I felt completely sick and my only motivation to keep going was to get out of there! So we climb some more, and come to another spiral staircase, this time holding onto a ROPE in the center of it. Just a dangling rope. Finally, we come to the top and we are, amazingly, at the very crest of the duomo in San Pietro, overlooking all of mid-morning Rome, as modern-day Romans stretch and yawn and spill into the streets of this very ancient, very metropolitan city. After a few pictures, I felt like I might faint, so we headed back down (I know, I’m such a downer). Back on the level of the basilica, well, actually on the roof of the basilica, was a little caffe so we got some espresso and a croissant (this was the first croissant we’ve found since we’ve been here that didn’t have some sort of chocolate, cream, honey, or marmalade in it– exciting for us– and yes, we’ve had quite a few croissants). We rode the elevator back down but then realized, wait, we haven’t actually been IN the basilica yet, just above it, so we walked around and there is yet another manger scene, and it too was beautiful. And then we are about to walk out and Ren stops and stares, and we all stop and stare, and right in front of our faces is the Pieta. The Michelangelo Pieta. (This is the statue of dying Jesus in a lady’s, I think Mary Magdalene’s, lap– pieta means “lap of death”.) It was gorgeous, and to think we almost missed it. As you can see, we’ve been so overwhelmed, we didn’t do our research.

Anyway, we left St. Peter’s and walked to the rest of Vatican City (actually, quite far). We wanted to see the Sistine Chapel. So, we waited in line, only to find out that you have to go through the entire Vatican Museum to get to the Sistine Chapel. Doesn’t sound so bad though. But the museum is enormous, and there’s only one path, a TON of incredibly famous art, and thousands upon thousands of people. I wish I had been feeling better, but mostly all this art, painted ceilings, tapestries, tiled flooring, pushy people– all made me a bit nauseous. I did appreciate some of it, though. It was just so much, you could really probably spend a few hours in each room, and there were probably… I don’t know, 20 long rooms to go through before the Sistine Chapel. So you just sort of wander through, and look up, and try to appreciate what you can, and in my case, appreciate it without vomiting. So. Finally we get to the Raphael room, which is incredible and beautiful and I wish I remembered more of the three art history classes I’ve taken. And then, the Sistine Chapel. There are a lot of rules in there- no talking, no pictures, no videos. Well, everyone else was taking pictures so I decided to do the same, and of course I got caught twice, but oh well, they didn’t do anything, just told me to stop. The chapel was much smaller than I’d expected, but quite beautiful. What no one knows is that the walls were painted by Il Perugino, Perugia’s own famous painter. They were gorgeous. Finally I felt crappy and had to leave.

So we did lunch with the family, and it was wonderful again, and then we ended up falling asleep on their couch watching Blazing Saddles, believe it or not. We were just so tired. And Saturday night, they went out again and I went to bed again.

Sunday morning we got our things together and headed out to see a few more things, but it was raining. We didn’t have time to do the colisseum but we walked and drove by it so many times, it wasn’t a big deal, plus I’m sure I’ll be back. We did, however, see the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish steps, as well as the Pantheon. All, of course, are beautiful. We threw two coins each in the Trevi (one is to wish to return to Rome, two is to fall in love while in Italy, three is to hear wedding bells of your own while in Italy– I avoided that one, obviously).

Finally it was time to go, and I will admit I was a bit relieved. We got on the train and headed back, and that was that.

The weather while in Rome was beautiful, and of course now the forecast for this week in Perugia is snow and ice. Well, unfortunately, this morning, I woke up and wasn’t feeling well yet again. I guess I’ve neglected to mention in this blog that since being here I’ve had a persistent dizziness, chills, night sweats, feelings of detachment, and now a chest cold… I sort of put it all on the back burner because I was so excited to be here. Well, I went to Italian class this morning and felt like I might faint so I stumbled down to the main building and a lady there took me to the hospital (which is basically just the doctor’s office) and helped me translate how I was feeling to the doctor there. They were so nice, and so helpful, and I didn’t even have to wait– I literally got off the elevator and walked right into the examination room. Anyway, I have early pneumonia and now I have to stay in bed for a week. So, I won’t get to go to Deruta and Montefalco on Friday probably. This, of course, is no good, but I guess you don’t mess with pneumonia. So, here I am, in bed. The doctor said I need to try to eat some meat, even though I’m a vegetarian. So, that’ll be interesting. Anyway, I’m going to lie down now for awhile, but I thought I’d update everyone on the ups and downs of Italy these days.

Love you all! Ciao Ciao… pray or meditate or whatever for me so I get better and don’t have to sit in my apartment! Grazie, baci baci.

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