27 July 2017

Finding My Corner

Sometimes I enjoy "getting lost".  Of course, sometimes it's part of finding my way.  But the pleasure comes in unexpected pleasures experienced along the way.  It might be an interesting building or landscape feature I hadn't seen before, or simply a new sensory experience or insight about something.  Other times, it's nice just to have the freedom to not travel in a perfect linear path.

I have to admit, though, that even when I'm riding for pleasure, it can get frustrating to find myself looping back to the same place three or four times.  New York has a grid pattern, even if it breaks down in places, so it's possible to go only so far astray.  Paris's streets are mostly straight, but they usually begin and end in some sort of circle or square place.  Also, because there are only a couple of really tall buildings in the City of Light, it's easy to use them to orient myself.

Now, here in Rome, they didn't have a Baron Haussmann who tried to make straight lines out of their ancient winding roads.  And, although it shares Paris' preponderance of low to mid-level buildings, the tallest or highest-standing structures (like the Vatican) don't always stand out because the city is hilly.  (Paris is mostly flat.)  In this sense, it's a lot like Prague, where I cycled a few years ago.  

I was completely unfamiliar with the geography of the Czech capital before I started riding it, so it didn't frustrate me when I found myself circling about, or simply ending up in a completely different part of town from where I intended to go.  On the other hand, I thought I still had some knowledge of this city, though I must say that I didn't cycle the last time I was here.  Turns out, I remembered some specific spots more than I could recall what's between them.  I tried, at times, to follow parts of the route on which Roberto took me, and later marked on a map.  Of course, I was trying to find my way without his knowledge of this city--and with my navigational skills, which rival those of a guy who thought he was headed to the land of the Punjabs but instead landed somewhere near Port au Prince.

Finally, after I found myself at the intersection of via XX Settembre, Corso d'Italia and via Nomentana for the fifth time, I gave up all hope of going to any of the sites I thought I just have to see before this trip is over. For one thing, I reminded myself that, for all the time I've lived in New York and spent in Paris--and for all the bike trips I took in France--I haven't even come close to seeing everything that's worth seeing.  And, I reminded myself, even if I miss the Trevi Fountain this time, it can't be a whole lot different from how it was when I saw it in 1996.  

After making that realization, I found a great viewing spot across from the Quirinale.  And, a couple of minutes later, I found what I think is my favorite spot in Rome:

I mean, where else can you find an intersection that has a fountain on each of its four corners--and each of those fountains is whimsical, and even beautiful?  

The funny thing is that a few minutes later, I found myself at Trevi, almost without trying.

The real highlight of this day, though, was going to the Pantheon:

In a previous post, I mentioned that it took New York City seven and a half years to build a toilet stall in the Brooklyn park where I spent many hours of my childhood.  Although it incorporates "green" technology found in other state-of-the-art facilities (Does that strike you as a funny phrase to use in reference to a toilet stall?), it isn't innovative or unusual, at least in a technical sense.  And it cost more, per square foot, than it would take to buy the most expensive apartment in Trump Tower!

Nearly two milennia ago, the Emperor Hadrian built this monument, if I'm not mistaken, in two years. Moreover, this dome is something that nobody would know how to construct, even today.  For one thing, no one is entirely sure about the materials used: It's said to be concrete, but to my understanding, concrete was not widely, if at all, used at that time.  Also, it's unsupported and half again as wide in diameter as the dome on the US Capitol building.

One of the reasons why the Pantheon still stands today is that since 609 it has been known as, officially, the Church of St. Mary and The Martyrs.  Although most people still call it the Pantheon (after the Greek word for "all of the gods"; pandemonium, a word coined by John Milton in Paradise Lost, means "all demons"), it is a Roman Catholic house of worship--which is probably what saved it from being destroyed during the Middle Ages, as many other "pagan" structures were.  

(Interestingly, one might argue that the reason the Hagia Sophia stands today is that it became a mosque.  Had it remained a Christian church, it might not have survived the Moorish invasion.)

Hmm....How lost was I today?


  1. "I gave up all hope..." The motto for riding in Italian traffic is actually "Abandon all hope ye who enter." - Dante, Inferno, III.9

    The Pantheon is most assuredly made of concrete. It was known to Roman engineers from the second century BC. The secret was lost sometime in late antiquity, 5th or 6th cent. Their concrete was not liquid but about the consistancy of potter's clay and was hand applied. We know that it had very high phosphorus content and that it's tensile strength was (is) higher than modern concrete, and it is harder. Most of the monumental structures of ancient Rome had a concrete core. The Colosseum is about 50% concrete. A Nobel is awaiting the one who rediscovered the secret of Roman concrete.


  2. "... rediscovers..."

  3. Leo-I find it fascinating that Romans had such a trove of knowlege that, basically, disappeared for a millenium.

    It makes me wonder whether our culture could suffer a similar fate.

  4. What knowledge and/or technology of our times could disappear in the future??? My guess would be the internal combustion engine. But I would also not expect it to be rediscovered in the more distant future. It was already archaic at it's conception, unsustainable. Our concept of the city would disappear with it.