When in Rome, I make a bee-line for the three great Caravaggio paintings of St. Matthew in San Luigi dei Francesi, just east of Piazza Navona. Standing in front of the paintings a few days ago—transfixed by the look of utter certainty on Christ’s scruffy features as he points a narrow finger toward Matthew in The Calling of Matthew [here]-- I realized that it was a good thing that none of my traveling companions had come with me. My gushing would have been unbearable. It occurred to me that this might make a nice topic for a blog post.
And then Rome intervened. The next day we watched six or eight trams go by in the other direction as we started out from our hotel in Trastevere, and none in our direction. The tram finally came after I had given up and had run across the street to try to catch a bus.
Last night as I made my way to Piazza del Popolo, which houses another great Caravaggio church, I was slowed by a wave of humanity coursing slowly down Via del Corso. This wasn’t a transportation strike—that was two days earlier—it was an enormous protest against Prime Minister Berlusconi. (A very cheerful protest, I should add. The middle aged Italians carrying signs reminded me of the protestors at a Tea Party rally). I made it nearly to the Piazza before finally giving up.
These frustrations alternate with the happy accidents that inevitably accompany them. One of the students on our trip get separated from us as we wandered around the edges of the Forum looking for Perilli’s Rome office, and happened upon a restaurant where she and her husband had eaten during their honeymoon six years ago. After several frustrating shopping expeditions, I finally found a birthday gift for my wife, whose birthday I missed because of the hard time I was doing in Rome. (We’ll see soon if she likes it too …)
I think heaven will be a little like Rome: full of aesthetic splendor and moments of pure, unexpected joy—just without the frustrations which, in a fallen world, provide the sharp, Caravaggian contrasts of dark and light that make the joys of Rome so arresting.