Energized and edified, instead of rubber-kneed and glassy-eyed,
or, strategies for tourism in a city as rich as Rome.
Dan Brown, author of Angels and Demons, went to the same college I did
and graduated two years after I did. At the time of this writing, he has
published seven more books than I have. (He has also been sued
for plagiarizing in the British judiciary one time more than I have.
Poor guy... I hope that turns out ok. But there's "no such thing as bad
Anyway, Angels and Demons is a delightful book. It is a fast read, and
forms a chain of improbabilites sooo long... that it's ticklish to the
reader. Another thing I like about it is the splashes of the arcane,
evidence of Dan Brown's scholarship, research, and above all, his own
delight in puzzles, hidden history, and the span of Western thought.
I have noticed since arriving in Rome last summer how popular themed
tours are, Angels-and-Demons-themed tours being just one example.
Another example dear to me: I have had the pleasure of helping out on
classic-scooter-borne "Roman Holiday" tours, Roman Holiday being the
1950s movie starring Audrey Hepburn, Gregory Peck and Eddie
Arnold. There's also Christian Rome, Rome-by-wine, and so on, ad infinitum
At first I wondered at the popularity of such themes, but now that I
have read A&D and thought to myself how fun it would be to follow
of the Illuminati, I had a simple realization: themes like this provide
a knob by which to get hold of this city, this "Eternal City," the caput mundi
this city for which "a lifetime is not enough." (This gem is
alternately attributed to antiquity, Goethe, Silvio Negro, and one
of the Popes called Gregory.) It gives a traveler a starting point, a
sequence to follow, and a manageable list of interesting sites to
visit and, perhaps best of all, some familiarity with each.
Especially if you have less than a lifetime - a couple of days,
for instance - to "allocate" to Rome, how could that not be appealing?
It reminds me of a small-scale approach we used with our then
four-year-old daughter in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. (Next I'll
be writing, nose in air, about having the Queen over for tea or something.) After a
while she was starting to lose interest in the whole enterprise.
keep her from losing interest, glazing over, crusting
even, with a protective shell against the acreage of painting and
tonnage of sculpture, we showed her an example of an Annunciation. She
was refreshed by the idea of searching for more and sustained by the
hunt for pictures of Gabriel telling Mary she was going to be a mom.
(She had found five by the time we left.) It seems obvious in
retrospect to use such a sorting tool on the overwhelming invetory.
This theme was reinforced that day for me through a nice coincidence: I
had recently finished a biography of da Vinci. Thus, when we came
across his paintings, it was like finding familiar faces in a crowd. For example, when we
came to his Annunciation
I could look at it for particular details: some problems
with perspective (it was an early work of his), and the angel's wing
had been extended by some artist other than Leonardo. Had I viewed
painting as cursorily as I did hundreds of others, I would not have
noticed. It would have added to my sense of numbness rather than having
stood out, memorably, and in a way that reinforced my understanding of
one of my heroes.
Maybe because of my Yankee upbringing, maybe because of an obsessive
streak that shows itself at odd times, I have always felt in some vague
and guilt-inspiring way that I have to Appreciate the entirety of the
content of collections like the Uffizi. I am recognizing that it is not
only presumptuous to think that I could, but also that is is not the
way I learn, or, it seems, the way most people learn.
Dan Brown did his homework, and it seems to be helping a lot of people
to find the middle path between having to overeat at one of the world's
richest buffets and sampling so little of so much that it leaves no
good taste. I didn't know how helpful he, Gregory Peck and Audrey
Hepburn, and innumerable other literary, cinematic, historic,
viticultural, religious, etc., tourguides could be.
© Max Hall, 2006.
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