Sunday, October 3, 2010

Rome, take 3

After the concert the previous day, I decided to spend Saturday visiting some of the sights of Rome that I hadn't seen the two other times I had been in the city. I started out walking to the Basilica di San Giovanni di Laterano, the official seat of the Bishop of Rome (the guy that's usually called the Pope). Inside, it had an impressive baldachin over the altar and a beautiful mosaic in the apse. Of particular interest is also the baptistry, one of the oldest in existence, along with the adjoining chapels of St. Venantius as well as St. Secundus and St. Rufina, with 5th-7th century mosaics.
From here, it was a relatively simple metro + bus trip to Via Appia Antica, the ancient road connecting Rome with Brindisi. The first few miles have some interesting sights, and the bus drops you off a short distance from the tomb of Caecilia Metella, about 3 miles from the city walls. Unfortunately for me, the road is still in use (except for Sundays), so for most of the way you have to contend with car traffic. I made my way to the Circus of Maxentius, apparently one of the best preserved Roman circuses still in existence. The massive scale was pretty impressive, and it must have been even more so in antiquity when the starting gates and stalls were still standing. From here, I walked on, taking a quick look into the church of San Sebastiano on the way, to the catacombs of Callixtus. Unfortunately, they were just closing for their lunch break, so I walked further until the next bar to get a sandwich, then walked back and waited until they reopened. Since you have to go with a tour (included in the admission), I went with the German group, which was relatively informative. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the Etruscan necropolis of Tarquinia more, since you could go at your own pace (and take pictures). After the half-hour tour, I walked back into the city, past the Baths of Caracalla and the Coliseum, until I reached the Basilica of San Pietro in Vincoli, famous for the tomb of Pope Julius II, which occupied Michelangelo for much of his life (and remained unfinished, as well as unoccupied by Julius himself).
From there, it was past some anti-Berlusconi protesters to the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, to which I had been before but wasn't able to visit properly due to the Madonna of Lourdes. The mosaics here were magnificent, reminiscent of the ones in St. Mark's basilica in Venice. Since I still had some time left before my train back to Florence, I walked back to the train station, and took the metro to Piazza del Popolo, where the church of Santa Maria del Popolo contains some more artistic masterpieces. Among these are the Chigi Chapel, designed by Raphael, two paintings by Caravaggio, and two frescoes by Pinturicchio (including some of the earliest grotesques since antiquity). From there, I returned to the train station and a short time later, returned to Florence.

Black Mountain

Since Kristen is back in the US for a while, I've got plenty of time for myself. So Friday, I took the train to Rome in order to go to a concert at the Circolo degli Artisti by Black Mountain, a Canadian progressive/psychedelic rock band. It was all a rock concert should be: loud and energetic. Black Mountain's music owes a lot to the sounds of the 70's: something like Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple, with a touch of Pink Floyd added in. Led by Stephen McBean, guitarist and lead vocalist, the band has a second vocalist in Amber Webber, who also sings in the side project Lightning Dust with bandmate Joshua Wells. I love Amber's singing: alternately shattering and shattered, she can be powerful and fragile all at once. Lightning Dust's album "Infinite Light" was on heavy rotation for me last year, and I'm sure that now Black Mountain's new album "Wilderness Heart" will do the same (I got the album at the show). The band doesn't do stage antics, so they might seem disinterested to some, but they concentrate on the music, which was tight and well-crafted. No banter in between songs, but they cracked up at the odd request for "Me and Bobby McGee" from the audience.
The opening act, The Night Terrors, played decent, though somewhat repetitive psychedelic instrumental rock, which had the advantage of frequently featuring the theremin.