NJ is finally experiencing a real winter, which for me translates to, “the only traveling I’ll be doing lately is to work and to the store to get milk, bread and eggs when the weather folks tell me to.” Snowed in days and temps only a penguin can appreciate means I’m going through the archives and organizing my photographic life.
I’m starting with the first major travel experience of my life. I was 15 and my very Catholic mother thought I should accompany her on HER dream trip to the Holy Land. Now, I was 15. And hated going to church every Sunday. Religion was not my thing. Because…I… was…15. Uggghhhhh, ok, I will go with mom overseas and leave my early summer Jersey Shore for a couple of weeks. At least I get to fly for the first time AND get out of school a week early, yay me! And see some of the most incredible art and architecture of a lifetime. Although I wasn’t fully aware at the time what a once in a lifetime trip this would be…
Editor’s Note: please grin and bear the following photography. And keep in mind these facts that lead up to the following photography – it was 1979. The camera we used was a Kodak Instamatic, one of the long flat rectangular models. With the cool little cube flash units. Many of the photos were taken by my mother. From a bus window. You will know those when you see them. I was only dipping my toe in the photography world and my first SLR didn’t reach my hands until my 16th birthday, three weeks after this trip. And…she kept all these photos in a Tupperware box in an attic and then a garage to endure changing temps over the years that photographs just shouldn’t be exposed to ever.
So don’t mind the photos. I did what I could to salvage them without losing the, “wow these are from 1979 appeal.” Think of them as vintage and really cool.
The first stop in the Holy Land tour was Rome, Italy. Being an art student in the Patrick Nagel, Art Deco, Peter Maxx and Pop Art phase I thought I was going to see some outrageous art in Rome as well as fashion. Vogue Magazine sold me on those ideas. When I made my grand entrance overseas, I was a little disappointed. No outrageous runway fashion like my magazines showed me. Most women look frazzled and unkept. Clothing was blah. The heart of Rome was bustling crazy and felt unorganized. Cars drove in any direction around the Colosseum, no lines in the roads creating lanes, no traffic laws appeared to be enforced. Donna Summer’s “Hot Stuff” & “Bad Girls” came through the speakers of every store. Where was the music sung in Italian where I couldn’t understand a single word?? Restaurants & cafes were small and crowded but the waiters did pinch you if they liked you. I didn’t care for it (I’m 15, touch me and I will stab you with my pasta fork), but mom sure did enjoy the attention. Every time she was pinched she let everyone within a two mile radius know by her piercing shriek and laughter. I hated the attention, I was 15. I also was a blonde American teenage girl in Italy. Total Mediterranean man bait right there.
The Colosseum was the first stop and a major one on our tour. As you would expect, there were a lot of ancient landmarks and ruins in this area. I felt like I walked right into the pages of my high school history book. It was kinda cool but I never let on to mom about that. Or anyone else for that matter.
What I remember most about Rome besides the noise and the men who couldn’t keep their hands to themselves was the architecture and the feeling everything around me was made of stone. As most tourists on their first trip to a place like this, I’m sure I had the deer in the headlights look at every corner. The natives who knew no other place but their Rome didn’t seemed phased at all driving past the Colosseum every day on their way to work or casually strolling by the Trevi Fountain on their lunch break. Maybe it’s equivalent to walking the Brooklyn Bridge a gazillion times or passing by the Empire State Building because it’s just a skyscraper to me.
St. Peter’s Basilica is a church in Vatican City. Historical, beautiful, filled with ornate art. It’s also the burial place of over 90 popes. A little creepy for me back then, being in a room with lots of mummified pope corpses, but at the same time something of which I would never experience again. Speechless.
The Vatican and seeing the Pope was the high point of the trip for mom. John Paul II was the Pope in 1979, the first non-Italian in over 400 years. We caught him right before he headed to the US for a tour. I don’t remember if it was every day or certain days of the week where he would appear on a balcony and wave and say a few words and prayers to the people that came to see him. My memory from that day was a beautiful gold cross neckless that mom bought me and then having it blessed by the Pope. Not being a religious person, I felt the blessing meant something and I felt protected by that neckless for years.
Of course there are no photos of the Pope. We were so far back and anyone who knows a little about photography can vouch that “Instamatic” does not mean, “taking fabulous, crisp, detailed photos from far away.” And once he appeared the crowds were waving and there was no chance for a decent blurry shot. This one is photographed in my brain.
Mom was on Cloud Nine that day and she knew she secured her spot in heaven. She told me I had a lot of work to do before I could secure my spot. Geez, way to boost up a teenager’s spirit, mom. But hey, I was only 15, nothing made sense to me back then anyway.
Next stop was to see the catacombs, the underground burial spots of the Romans for centuries. So eerie hearing the stories and walking through the tunnels to the tombs. Luckily, no bodies on display where we went – as if walking underground in low tunnels wasn’t creepy enough.
Seeing the Roman Forum, the Tiber River with the Castel Sant’Angelo in the background and many other landmarks were reminiscent to scenes from old Charleton Heston movies. Columns, dirt and lots of stone. Truly amazing sites to absorb in a modern world.
The meeting place for Romans must be the Trevi Fountain. Never was there a time while I was in Rome when there weren’t a lot of people lounging and admiring this magnificent piece of art. Legend has it that if a visitor throws a coin in the fountain, they are ensured a trip back to Rome. I threw in my coin in 1979. Hoping that return trip is in my future so I can really take in the sites and truly appreciate it all. And to take much better photos this time around!
Next up Part Two of the Holy Land trip…