With a head full of ideas, and a jar full of gel medium, I spent the next day bailing on both the water color class and Italiaidea in order to work in my apartment. Having collected plenty of images from my environment, I spent a good long day applying gel medium to xeroxes, waiting for it to dry, applying more layers, scratching the paper away, applying more layers...

The next morning, we gathered together for drawing class in our neighborhood's living room, the Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere. With a small (by Roman standards) but well-decorated fountain that serves as a gathering spot for neighborhood kids playing street soccer and young lovers playing acoustic guitar, it's a place that needs no introduction for those of us who have lived quite literally right around the corner for several weeks now. This time, we get to go inside the church of Santa Maria in Trastevere to absorb the refuge it offers next to one of the busiest areas of this neighborhood.

With a Romanesque campanile rising above an 800-year-old mosaic depicting Mary surrounded by several attendants, and with pieces of sarcophagi placed under an 18th-century portico, it presents itself as something of a storehouse of the 2000-year history of religion in this town. Maybe it was the rain -- which kept us from spending significant time in the church's botanical gardens -- but it did seem to be very dark and quiet, a sort of sacred storage, inside what is believed to be the first Roman church specifically dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

Rome joke: Why did the art students cross the road? To get to the church on the other side, of course. On the southeastern flank of Viale di Trastevere, the church of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere offers not just a secluded courtyard and inviting interior space, but one of the more freakishly interesting histories in this town filled with interestingly historic churches. It is built on what is believed to be the remains of a house belonging to a martyred Christian of the 3rd century. Cecilia was condemned to be scalded to death in her own steam room, yet survived. Her decapitation was then ordered, but she survived even this for several days afterward. When her body was excavated from the catacombs centuries later, the sculptor Maderno was present as a witness and so taken by the sight that he carved a poetically shrouded representation of her body, a hauntingly beautiful sculpture displayed beneath the altar. The artist's inscription below the work affirms that this quiet beauty seen by the viewer is exactly what the artist saw that day. To top it off, St. Cecilia is the patron saint of music, credited with having invented the organ, and on November 22 every year, musical services are held in her honor.

And -- "AND!", as Layne would emphasize -- if you ask nicely and show up at the proper time and mind your P's and Q's (all of which we of course did with aplomb), the staff will escort you upstairs into the Nun's Choir where you can view a damaged but still vibrant 700-year-old fresco of The Last Judgment by Pietro Cavallini, a late-13th century work which, in Rome's ever enigmatic way of rebuilding upon itself, had apparently been hidden from sight and forgotten for several hundred years when the interior facade of the church was rebuilt. It is now the only known surviving Cavallini fresco in existence. Viewing it, even in what amounts to a dimly lit attic, one can easily see a continuing line between what had come before in classical Roman painting at Pompeii and what was soon to follow with Giotto's murals in Padua.

Waldo and I needed some caloric input at this point late in the day, and that's when it happened. Our defenses fell. We had a few dollars in our pocket. It was right there on Viale di Trastevere. It smelled nice. It looked familiar. We had seen it before, and this time couldn't resist.

We went into McDonald's and ordered some burgers and fries.

It was OK. The architecture and decoration of the interior, that is. Nothing like most of the hallowed buildings we've seen thus far in Italy, but ... OK. It doesn't really compare to the McD's in Germany, I told Waldo, where one can order beer right there at the counter. It seems remarkably similar to most other places we've grabbed food in Italy, in that there are no chairs to be had anywhere.

And dang it if those fries didn't taste reeeeeeal good on a cold, damp day spent on our feet.

They may have even helped make it easier to get through the crit of work in progress later that evening back at the Pio.

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