Sunday, March 31, 2019


Because I visited most of Rome’s ancient tourist attractions in previous visits, this time I decided to concentrate on some more modern art forms. Of course, “modern” is a subjective term. In the context of Rome, a city in which two thousand year old viaducts loom over every supermarket and petrol station, “modern” can be pretty much anything that postdates the Renaissance. With that understanding, the existence of three hundred year old artworks in the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna’s collection makes much more sense.

The gallery has recently undergone a reconfiguration of its collection. Rather than being organised by era, as most art galleries order their spaces, the Galleria Nazionale has organised its collection thematically. One room might be expressions of violence, in which a modern sculpture of pit bulls attacking each other sits in front of a vast 19th century oil painting of the Zulu wars. Another room might emphasise the concept of volume, with a group of disparate car parts crushed into a varicoloured ball, next to a 2x1 metre block of earth suspended high on the wall. It was a bold and fascinating way to display modern art.

But as is often the case, the most fun to be had is coming up with more appropriate names for the artworks.

New Grindr Profile Pic Added, Auguste Rodin, 1875

20 Minutes Into His Story About His LAN Configuration, Vittorio Matteo Corcos, 1896

Your Mother and I Aren’t Angry So Much as Disappointed, Paolo Troubetzkoy, 1908

Dude, Check it Out, My First Selfie in Arles LOL, Vincent van Goh, 1889

Jove Getting Pissed at the Powerpoint Remote During His Big Presentation, Pietro Galli, 1838

And I Was, Like, You’re Being Such a Bitch, Denise, Pietro Galli, 1847

Fine, Jessica, Whatever, I’ll Give You My Netflix Password, Jeez, Nicola Carta, 1850

#WhiteWomenAreTheWorst, Giulio Sartorio, 1897

Benny satisfied himself by posing with a Modigliani…

… gaining power from some sort of orange plastic space cube…

… and happily exploring an alien planet…

… or maybe it was one of those complicated Italian designer sofas. It’s so hard to tell.

The Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna had not slaked our thirst for art; merely awoken it. And so we headed over to the Museo Nazionale Delle Arti Del XXI Secolo, better known as the Maxxi. It’s housed in bold new building designed by Zaha Hadid, incongruously located in a rundown neighbourhood in the north of the city.

The main exhibition was ‘The Street’, a huge and varied series of installations about the alienation wrought by urban spaces, resistance to State control, and the power differentials between those who rule the streets and those who live in them. Basically it was a massive paean to Social Justice Activism, which would have been really insufferable if the art hadn’t actually been very perceptive and thought-provoking. My favourite piece was a huge architect’s model of a cityscape, all rendered in stark white 3D-printed plastic, in which, if you looked closely, you could suddenly see disasters that the city planners hadn’t considered when dreaming up their plans, like a suicide jumping out of one of the skyscrapers, two tanker trucks colliding on the boulevard, and a herd of deer bolting across the parkway causing multiple vehicle pileups. I think it was about the folly of town planners believing that they can foresee and channel all human behavior and eventualities, and thus build perfect cities. But then a bunch of stupid deer come along and RUIN EVERYTHING!

The Maxxi also had some quieter galleries with the retro futuristic lighting that is Benny’s natural habitat.

Saturday, March 30, 2019


It was our first full day in Rome, and the city basked in clear blue skies and glorious spring sunshine. And so, naturally, Benny and I decided to go see an ossary. After all, Australia has plenty of bright sunshine, but relatively few artworks created from the bones of dead monks from the 17th century.

If one expected Il Convento dei Cappuccini to be a monastic order devoted to the spiritual contemplation of coffee, one would be disappointed (possibly devastated). It is in fact the home of the order of Capuchin monks. If one expected the Capuchin monks to be devoted to the spiritual contemplation of cute little monkeys, one would be disappointed too - the word “capuchin” refers to their hooded habits. In reality, the Capuchin order was a highly ascetic one, devoted to humility, poverty and an odd relationship with the remains of their dead brothers. No coffee. No monkeys. Frankly I have no idea why anyone joined.

The first reference to the Capuchin monks’ bizarre treatment of their dead came in 1775 from, of all people, the Marquis de Sade, who found it compelling but offputting… which given his predilections is saying something. The monks had been storing the bones of their dead since at least the early 17th century, and some time between the construction of the church in 1630 and the Marquis de Sade popping his reprehensible little head up in 1775, they had started using the bones and mummified remains as decorative elements in their crypt. Entire skeletons of little boys lounge on piles of skulls like morbid cherubs from a baroque painting. Delicate ribs form elaborate curving patterns on the ceilings. Vertebrae bloom like rosebuds in bouquets of bones. It’s creepy, sad and fascinating in roughly equal parts.

Personally, two things stuck with me. Firstly, all of these monks were tiny. The mummified ones, who haven’t been taken apart for decorative curlicues, are barely 5’5” or 5’6”. I guess it’s true what they say about our improved diets and general health resulting in our being much taller than we used to be.

Secondly, it’s clear from the thick layer of grey dust on the bones that no one ever dusts the dead – maybe that’s a bridge too far for their cleaning lady.

Once we left the crypt, we decided that it was time to celebrate life rather than death, so we walked a couple of blocks to the Villa Borghese Gardens, one of Rome’s largest public parks.

Benny was having a great time, until he fell foul of a local resident.

Once I’d rescued Benny from the Jaws of Certain Death, we repaired to what purported to be a local art gallery for a dose of both culture and coffee. But it turned out that there wasn’t much in the way of art there. It was more of a conceptual art space, into which one brings one’s own inner art. There were a lot of fascinating voids where art might actually occur, if only the violet-haired girls and skinny boys with facial piercings would would turn up to express it.

Fortunately the cafe had actual as well as conceptual coffee, so we could relax and get our little jolt of caffeine.

Even so, the cafe did have some artistic surprises. Embedded in each table was a perspex rod capped in aluminium, fixed to an aluminium pivot. There was absolutely no indication as to why.

I sent Benny in to investigate.

Then had to rescue him. That boy is proving to be kind of accident-prone.

Friday, March 29, 2019


Travel, they say, broadens the mind. They forgot to mention that it also exasperates the patience, as one gets one’s ducks in a row prior to the actual travel part. I had nearly a week off work before I departed, and it was almost entirely spent purchasing Euros, organising a housesitter, organising someone responsible to look after my beloved car, getting bills paid, making sure that my credit cards and email accounts would work overseas and not be cut off by overzealous security was exhausting.

Benny just had a going away party with some old and new friends. Lucky little plastic bastard.

But eventually we were off! We broke loose of the parochial bounds of Perth, and launched ourselves into the scintillating experience of sitting in uncomfortable chairs, either in airports, or in giant aluminium and fibreglass tubes hurtling at 800kph through the planet’s upper atmosphere, for 24 hours.

The first leg was actually not too bad, especially considering that it was 12 hours long. We flew in one of the new Airbus A380-800s, with better ventilation, personal touchscreens, and at least in my case, the glorious bounty of an exit row, with so much leg room that I could have offered tango lessons in the space. Although I didn’t sleep at all – the closest I came was mentally blanking out a couple of hours – there were plenty of movies I wanted to see in the database, so after Crazy Rich Asians, Deadpool 2, Ralph Wrecks the Internet, and something else that I can’t remember for the life of me, interspersed with drinking and snacks, the hours just flew by… if you’ll excuse the pun.

However, the next plane, on the shorter leg from Qatar to Italy, was not an Airbus A380-800. It was a smaller and far older plane. The little screens in the back of each headrest were scratched and dull, making every video look like it had been filmed by candlelight and thus rendering them all unwatchable. The bathrooms were tiny and few in number. I didn’t get an exit row (although the leg room was still better than that in the majority of Australian airliners).And, worst of all, most of the plane was packed with Chinese tourists, and the only way I survived the screeching, the gross in-seat personal grooming, and the running battles with the flight attendants trying to make them turn off their phones, stow their tray tables or go back to their seats during turbulence was with steely resolve and noise-canceling headphones.

Eventually we touched down in Leonardo da Vinci Airport, and we could escape the suffocating confines of the crowded plane, trading them for the suffocating confines of an Italian passport control queue. What took a few minutes at Perth and Doha took nearly two hours in Rome – it’s comforting, in a way, to know that inefficient Italian bureaucracy is still a thing.

Once we’d provided adequate proof of our benign travel intentions to dead-eyed immigration police, it was a quick half hour train ride into central Rome, then a short walk to our Airbnb in the bohemian university neighbourhood of San Lorenzo.

Viva Italia!

Thursday, March 28, 2019


The reason why I started writing this blog again is that I want to cover my upcoming trip to Italy. I have what is quite possibly the worst memory in human experience, and I’ve found that when I don’t blog about my travels, I quickly lose any defined memories of what happened. The rich cultural interaction becomes nothing more than a few photos of a Lego minifig and a hole in my bank balance.

Speaking of which, I’ve made the capricious decision to to take an alternate minifig to Europe with me. The last two times I’ve gone, I’ve taken Admiral Ackbar, because he is good at identifying traps and because the camera loves him. However I figured that twice is enough, and so I’ve decided upon a different minifig to be my companion and photographic muse. In the interests of continuity, however, I’ve kept with the outer space theme.

Benny is delighted... probably because I omitted to tell him that Italy doesn't have a space program.