Sam Bowker: The Grand Tour Diary (2005 - 2006)

This is the archived journal of a 2005-2006 'Grand Tour' around the Eastern Mediterranean and along East Africa, written by Sam Bowker, whilst in search of his PhD topic.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Italy - Still exploring Rome

Dedicated to James, political-social philosopher and practical debator.

The last couple of days in Rome have been so busy I haven't had time to blog. That may not be entirely true, but it's certainly been more fun to keep myself occupied on other events.

I wandered the streets on Monday, avoiding unanticipated police barricades across the city, and sought out two obscure little museums that happened to be open. The first, the Crypt of the Capuchin Friars, is a "bone church", a subterreanean passageway lined with chapels. These are adorned with the skeletal remains of about 4000 Capuchin Friars, dismantled and arranged into the arabesques, grotesques and architectural forms that you would expect to see in most churches of Rome. It was a very ominous place, macabre to say the least, but not as chilling as I expect a place like the Pol Pot museum in Cambodia would be. These people weren't murdered, they're just dead. Quite dead. There was a poem inside which I'll transcribe here in a few days time when I start uploading pictures from my base in Cairo, but for now I'd like to leave you with the words written on the floor of the final chapel:

"What you are now we once were, what we are now you will be"

Hopefully, that is, not ornamenting a pilgrimage site in a church. I can think of better things to do with my afterlife.

The other small place was the Museum of Souls in Purgatory. It sounds like a macabre day but it really wasn't meant to be - these just were the places open on Mondays in Rome. I went expecting a kind of Nick Bantock pseudo-fictional obscure tangent on reality, and sort of got that. It was hidden in a darkened room at the back of a gorgeous and intricate Gothic church, and consisted of hand prints burnt into bibles, textiles, and odd faces that emerged from ruins in burnt-out religious sites. Creepy stuff, much more atmospheric and spine-tingling than most relics I've thus far encountered.

The Fawlty Towers hostel has been excellent for socialising. I ran into the Minnesotan carpenter-poet and sadistic chess player James from Cinque Terre again by chance, and ended up spending this morning visiting the Galleria Borghese with him. Fascinating bloke. There's also been a few other interesting characters - Butch the Canadian Harley-Davidson rider with a brilliant sense of humour, Laura (also a Canadian) who has spent around a year working for a school library project in Ghana as part of her degree, and a religious bioethicist-artist from Ireland. Even the chance encounters out in the streets have been memorable, but I won't bore you with them here!

Today tackled three major galleries in the Villa Borghese area. The Galleria Borghese was a fantastic restored mansion of a 17th century Cardinal with a passion for collecting classical sculpture. The neoclassical marble pieces he commissioned from Peranesi were especially stunning, particularly his Paulina, his David, and the Apollo in pursuit of Daphne. Then there was the extensive Etruscan museum, and the major National Gallery of Modern Art, in which I took copious notes on the large map they provided. It's quite colourful now!

It has been a fantastic day. Tomorrow I plan to visit another series of major museums, particularly of archaeological subjects. (Because these things just don't EXIST in Australia!)


  • At Wednesday, November 23, 2005 7:35:00 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Keep it up Bronut. Remember:-

    There's no place like Rome.

    God i loved it.

    Love you too.


  • At Friday, November 25, 2005 12:32:00 am, Blogger Ghost Particle said…

    Do write about the museums. Sounds exciting!

  • At Tuesday, December 20, 2005 3:15:00 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Finally found the time, thanks for the dedication, though I must say that if this wasn't your blog, and day trips were written in the unowned sands far, far from the eyes that close themselves to the light, which some call day, and others diety; the finger etching in that dusty fabric, causually sifting the dunes with the other, free hand, would surely paint you the philosopher and the wise, the star and creator of tomorrows.


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