Saturday, June 26, 2010


Wednesday was our first day of "class" and we went on a tour of Goethe's house.

For those of you who don't know (like I didn't until I toured his house), Goethe was a German politician and writer from the 1700's who snuck out of Germany to come live in Italy as a simple painter for a while. In connection with this tour, we were also assigned different days to read from his journal, then we had to sketch what he was talking about in his journal entry. I got November 1st, 1786, which was the first day he arrived in Rome via the Piazza del Populo (which I had gone to just after the tour), so that is what I sketched:

In his journal entry, Goethe talks about how during his entire trip to Rome (which took about 2 months, I think), he could hardly believe where he was going, and it wasn't until he passed through the city gates into the Piazza del Populo that he really knew he was in Rome. I was thinking how this compared with my experience cming into Rome. How different it must have been to come into a grand Piazza - a foyer for the city itself - than it is today, to come into a dirty airport, then find your way to a dirty train, then a dirty tram where gypsies are following you, playing accordion, then drag your huge suitcase over the uneven cobblestones of the city (I literally had blisters on my hands from that). . . it wasn't until I started seeing some of these more grand spaces that I began to be excited to be here, and I wonder if, perhaps, the modern entry to Rome were at least a little bit like the historical entry to Rome, I might have felt better about this whole trip. Because I was honestly wondering what on earth I was doing here.

(The most well-known and most often used historical entry to Rome, the Piazza del Populo has lots of great things in it: several fountains, an Egyptian obelisque (they're all over the city, spoils of war re-erected in the conqueror's city), twin churches, and three main streets radiating off of the Piazza, a gentle reminder that at one time, "all" roads lead to Rome. . .)

Then, of course, in talking with Esther (my professor here, who is German, too), she brought up the point that it is great that European cities have public transportation which allows even lower class travellers to be able to reach their destinations, whereas Goethe's situation was really only that of a rich person, able to afford a carriage and such. But, I still think that regardless of the mode of transportation, the spaces that are the interface between traveling and arriving are very important to the feeling of arrival. In fact, I have one great example of a modern form of transportation which still captures that essence of grand arrival and welcome: that is Penn Station in New York City, (now demolished, of course):

"We used to enter the city like gods; now we enter it like rats." ~ Vincent Scully

Historical Pictures of Penn Station borrowed from,, and, respectively.

No comments:

Post a Comment