Walden World

The wacky and wonderful tales of Beth's and Catherine's global adventures. And all things Walden too.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

La Dolce Morte

So C and I are in Rome. I took her to the Roman Museum of History wherein she was aquainted with the lives of the Patrician citizens of the former Roman Empire and the Republic.

In recounting the history of Rome: that it was divided into two classes, Patrician and Plebian, of which the Plebians recieved free bread and wheat rations as they were largely unemployed; that Romans were also gorged on free games in the Amphitheatre; that wine and sex flowed freely in ancient Rome and finally that under really crazy Emperors such as Caligula, game days, which were officially a holiday, could comprise almost 250 days per year, C said that she thought the lot of life of the average Roman citizen, Plebian or Patrician was altogether a pretty sweet life.

Then we got to the sarcophogii of the many dead, Pagan inhabitants of Rome. There C's indemic Anglicism hit her. Here the Romans mourning so many beloved dead, be they their baby girls dying young, wives or husbands ripped from each other or youthful sons taken at 20 years, were all remembered in marble casket after casket showing the debauchary of Dioynisian rites: He was the God of Wine. C became a bit miffed that the afterlife of the ancient Romans, in fact the carriage of their very soul, appeared to involve becoming completely hammered and having to be carried home by a dwarf.

Thereafter her newfound respect of Pax Romani diminished quickly.

That is until we visited Via Veneto

Via Veneto is famed for its prominence in the Fellini film "La Dolce Vita", which means "The Sweet Life".

Right on Via Veneto is also the touristed cemetery of the Capuchian monks of a particular Brotherhood. Famed because of their fondness for creating what are called "bone chapels".

"Bone Chapels" are small church like settings constructed out of the bones of the many dead monks and nuns who have served in a particular Order. "Quite weird" I have always thought, but something found in very Catholic countries. They are there to remind you "the sinner", that life is but brief and that a cold and terrible death awaits.

In such chapels they always highlight some skull in a window with a plaque underneath reading: "As you are, I once was. As I am, soon you will be".

A total buzzkill.

But "Hey" I think, "I'm no stranger to the world of weird bone chapels" having visited a number in Portugal. Except when we went to this one on La Via Veneto.

Now this "chapel" was a total creepfest more reminiscent of a Haunted House ride then a holy grave. Not only did they assemble the bones in the usual array of decorative crafts: lamp sconces of tibia and fibulii, ceiling tromp l'eoil of finger and toe bones etc... but they also decided to stick a great number of dead monks back into their habits, hang them from the walls as if alive and have them scowl at you from under their Monkish cowels.

I felt like I was in an entirely Catholic version of the video for Michael Jackon's "Thriller".

Now I, more than some people, know that "idle hands do the devil's work" but really, could these monks have not taken up a more noble handicraft? Raising Saint Bernard dogs to save snow going travellers? Making delicious apertifs like Cointreau or Brandy? Raising orphans?

No. This lot dedicated their collective mettle to disinterring their fellow brethren and making them into chandeliers.

The most ghoulish of such folk art reached the high point on the last crypt.

They had either found very diminuitive monks, or small boys, and at the crest of the ceiling had reconstructed an entire little skeleton and suspended it in toto from wires like he was flying, in the way you see pterodacydal skeletons hanging in a paleontology museum. He held a scythe in one hand and swung scales in the other, all made from human shoulder blades and hip bones.

Here the Capuchians were there to remind you of how awful, bitter and terrible is the death of a Believer.

And I think it was here, that C decided that any afterlife which featured wine, dancing and stumbling home accompanied by a Satyr was a far better bet: "La Dolce Morte"


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