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2003 tour

tour scrapbook

participants' testimonials

 

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Paul Shaw

 

 

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Trevi Fountain:
an icon of Rome

 

 

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group portrait at
the Museo Nazionale

 

 

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Acqua Felice
(or Moses Fountain)

 

 

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1st century stone
fragment in the
Roman Forum

 

 

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group at the Forum

 

 

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Paul and Padre
at Santa Prassede

 

 

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Trajan's Column
and inscription

 

 

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Ezma shows off
a rubbing

 

 

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group at the
Capitoline Museums

 

 

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Keith taking a rest
in a quiet piazza

 

 

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Jill, Mike & Ezma
observing the Pantheon

 

 

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rubbing inscrirptions
at San Lorenzo

 

 

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Ambulating the
Vassaletto Cloisters

 

 

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picnicking on the
Via Appia Antica

 

 

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Acqua Paolo on
the Gianicolo Hill


 

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Garrett rubbing a
a mediaeval stone

 

 

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group photo at
Trajan's Column

A  T O U R   G U I D E ' S    D A Y   J O U R N A L

Paul Shaw, co-director of the Legacy of Letters tour program, recounts the 1997 Tour of Rome.

Background:
The inaugural Legacy of Letters Tour of Rome occurred in September 1997. The brainchild of Garrett Boge, principal of Seattle's LetterPerfect digital foundry, the tour was modeled on the legendary trips to Italy run by Professor Michael Twyman for the students in the Department of Typography and Graphic Communication at the University of Reading. The leaders of the Tour were Garrett and myself. Garrett conceived of the Tour as an extension of the Legacy of Letters line of historically-inspired digital fonts he and I have designed in recent years. Our research for the Baroque and Florentine typeface sets has brought us to Rome and Florence several times since 1991. During our 1995 trip Garrett proposed the idea of a tour as a way of sharing with others our enthusiasm for the variety of inscriptional lettering to be found in Rome. This first tour sold out, gathering members from the United States, England, Denmark and Singapore. The participants were Maurita (Moe) Snyder, Ezma Hanschka, Jill Overly, Glorie Austern, Pauline (Mike) Ridgway, Henrik Birkvig, Keith Bailey, Richard Kindersley, Robin Williams, John Tollett, Corwin Low, John and Sandy Raffealli, Brigid Kennedy, Bob and Barbara DeMaria. The group was quite a mix. Among the sixteen people who participated were five calligraphers, two letter carvers, a graphic designer, a web designer and illustrator, an author of computer books, a software designer, and an attorney. The others were simply enthusiasts: about letters, about Rome, about Italian culture.

Preface:
We all met in Rome at the Hotel Nerva, located behind Trajan's Column. The hotel, run by brothers Amelio and Umberto, is small and very friendly. It became our home away from home and a welcome place to return to after a day of tramping about the Eternal City. The Tour lasted for a week from Sunday, September 28 to Saturday, October 4. Although it officially began on Sunday, nearly everyone had arrived the day before. This prompted a get-acquainted dinner that night at Il Pollarolo, a small restaurant located near the Piazza del Popolo. Giovanni Lussu, a Roman graphic designer, joined us for the evening and we celebrated my birthday a day early.

Sunday, September 28.
The Tour started with an orientation of Rome via a chartered bus tour of the city, previewing many sites that would be seen on foot later in the week. We gathered at 2 pm on the Via Cavour to board our "Pullman", as the Italians call a charter bus. Our driver had to alter Garrett's intended route somewhat due to the weekly closing of roads around the Forum for the ritual Sunday passagiata. (The Forum is open for free on Sundays and Romans take the opportunity to stroll about to see friends and be seen). The driver successfully managed to hit all of the sites that Garrett had marked out. These included Porta Maggiore with the Baker's Tomb, Acqua Paola on the Gianicolo HIll, Acqua Felice, the massive Caracalla Baths, Santa Sabina (where we saw a wedding in progress), and San Paolo fuori le Mura. Earlier in the morning Jill Overly and Cory Low and myself had wandered through the Forum and out the other side, over to the church of San Giorgio in Velabro. There we admired some beautiful Romanesque inscriptional lettering on the façade while dodging wedding parties. (In all, we saw six wedding parties that day, including photo opportunities in front of the Acqua Paola and the hills looking over the Circus Maximus). In the evening everyone split up for dinner. I led Jill, John Tollett and Robing Williams to the Campo dei Fiori where we ate at a restaurant that served wine in tea and coffee pots (one for white wine and one for red, of course). Naturally we topped the evening off with a stroll around the Piazza Navona and a gelato. (The gelato -- Garrett's weakness -- became a daily ritual for the group).

Monday, September 29.
With bag lunches in hand the group strolled to the Roman Forum to kick off the walking part of the Tour. We spent the morning clamoring around the Forum, culminating in lunch on the Palatine Hill. In the Forum we looked at the Arches of Titus and Septimus Severus, a wonderful large inscription near the entrance, the area of the Vestal Virgins, and some socket letters hidden near the back exit to the Forum. There is so much to see in the Forum that each time one can discover new examples of inscriptions. Every day the Tour was divided into morning and afternoon excursions with the latter being less formal and more flexible. After a break at the hotel, we headed toward the early Christian churches of San Clemente and San Pietro in Vincoli. The latter has the majestic statue of Moses by Michelangelo, though little lettering. [One soon discovers in Rome that it is all but impossible to ignore the great art that is everywhere. To concentrate only on lettering and not see the architecture, sculpture and painting in Rome would be a crime!] San Clemente is one of the must-see churches in Rome. The current 11th century basilica surmounts three previous levels of sacred use including a Mithraic temple at the lowest level. It has some of the best Cosmatesque tile patterns on the floor as well as stunning mosaics over the altar. As an ad hoc side trip after San Clemente I took Jill, Cory and Ezma to see Santa Prassede nearby. We arrived at the church as it was closing but the priest in charge gladly let us stay and even turned on additional lights so we could get better pictures of the floor tomb lettering, the Cosmati floor, and the mosaics. He said it was "troppo buio" (too dark) inside for us to properly see everything. Since Santa Prassede is a lesser-known church it was deserted while we were there. But it certainly deserves to be better known and will probably be included in the 1998 Tour. One of our finds that afternoon was a Baroque inscription that had partially been 'erased'.

Tuesday, September 30.
This was the big day, the opportunity every calligrapher dreams of -- a chance to see the famous inscription on Trajan's Column. The scaffolding that had obscured the inscription in the past was finally gone. The group entered the area through Trajan's Markets. Several lingered on the catwalks looking down into the ruins, drinking in the scene, trying to reconstruct what the Forum must have looked like two thousand years ago. But Richard Kindersley, with Keith Bailey in tow, made a beeline to Trajan's column. Despite his long career as a stonecutter Richard had never been to Rome and he was not about to waste time. He spent a half hour or more carefully photographing the Trajan inscription. Other Tour members contented themselves with making rubbings among the inscriptional fragments on the ground. From Trajan's Forum we walked to the Capitoline Hill. The piazza, stairs and buildings were laid out by Michelangelo. The Capitoline Museums, flanking the Piazza Campidoglio -- with the statue of Marcus Aurelius between them --is one of the urban glories of Rome, and an example of high Renaissance design. Restoration work in anticipation of the Jubilee Year 2000 (a particularly significant year for Rome) has closed off part of the courtyard of the Campidoglio where the often-pictured giant toe and hand of the colossus of Constantine are. It also meant that we could not get close to an excellent socket inscription. Similar restoration efforts meant that the Christian galleries were closed. This was a great disappointment, but typical of Rome. [Rome is always in flux and you can never be sure what will be open and what will be closed. The Jubilee will add to this state of uncertainty in the next two years as the government seeks to spruce up important sites -- which means nearly everything.] There were still other rooms with inscriptions to see. In the Capitoline Museum the walls are inset with hundreds of red-colored inscriptions (a 19th century faux pas) and there are some fascinating busts of various emperors and other Roman notables. The afternoon itinerary took us from the Forum area, along the west embankment of the Tiber, through the Campo dei Fiori to Piazza Navona. On the way we saw the Teatro Marcello, San Giorgio in Velabro (closed every time we went by), Santa Maria in Cosmedin (with the famed Boca della Verità, or Mouth of Truth), the Portico di Ottavia and the house of Renaissance antiquarian Lorenzo Manilio. We looked at the inscription from 62 AD on the Ponte Fabricio, the oldest bridge in Rome and clambered around the Isola Tiburtina in the middle of the Tiber river. Both the Campo and Piazza Navona were astir with afternoon strollers and soccer-chasing kids. After viewing Borromini's church of Sant'Agnese in Agone and it's crypt, we dispersed to make our various ways back to our albergo, stopping of course for gelato.

Wednesday, October 1.
This day we set out on an ambitious treasure hunt to view inscriptions in Rome's Centro Storico -- historic center. We followed an itinerary that zigzagged back and forth, across and along the Corso from the Piazza del Popolo to the Piazza Venezia. [In advance of the tour, participants received a copy of "Roman Capitals: Five Itineraries in Rome" by Silvano Fassina. This walking-tour guidebook was originally published as 'Calligrafia' nos. 7/8 by Giovanni Lussu and friends in Rome. Garrett and I revised it for the Legacy of Letters Tour, adding some additional English translations and maps. This day's walk constituted Fassina's Itinerary 1.] It was a challenge since the Corso is a racecourse full of whizzing motociclette and taxis. Despite the noise and pollution the walk offers a compact microcosm of Rome's lettering treasures. We began with Palatino's inscription on the outside of the Porta Popolo. Then we moved on to the interior of the church of Maria del Popolo and the majestic obelisk in the adjacent piazza. The obelisk is notable for having both imperial inscriptions and Baroque ones (by Sixtus V's scribe, Luca Horfei). Along the Corso we looked at Canova's house, an inscription in the emergency entrance of a hospital, the courtyard of the nondescript San Silvestro filled with fragments of lettering (including a copy of an inscription in the Damasian style). San Silvestro, along with the porch of San Lorenzo nearby, were excellent rubbing venues. Tour members had a lively time at these two sites. [In the evenings we often walked about Rome, usually ending up either at the Trevi Fountain or the Piazza Navona. Both are popular nighttime hangouts with the Romans and excellent spots for gelato. Another good hangout with stunning views over the city is the Spanish Steps, newly restored, but lacking in good, inexpensive restaurants.]

Thursday, October 2.
Together we began the day at the Museo Nazionale Romano (most of which has been closed for decades). Everyone fanned out through the stones outside the main gate and later throughout the interior courtyard. Despite the limited access there is still much to see. Afterwards, Garrett led some of the members to a related gallery containing Roman sculpture while I took a few intrepid souls to Santa Pudenziana. It turned out to be less rewarding than Santa Prassede, its sister church. But there were a few delightful early Christian inscriptions hidden in the back of the church along the sides. We all reconvened at Santa Maria Maggiore where we went upstairs to see the mosaics reminiscent of San Marco in Venice. Inside Santa Maria Maggiore we visited a chapel for Sixtus V with plaques by Horfei. From the balcony we had a direct view of San Giovanni in Laterano, our next destination. At San Giovanni in Laterano we checked out yet another obelisk (this is a requirement for anyone looking at lettering in Rome) and, inside, a Florentine-style inscription on the tomb for a Portugese cardinal. We also visited the charming Vassaletto Cloisters with their twisting, mosaic-encrusted columns.

Friday, October 3.
This was Vatican day. We began with a private viewing of the Pio Cristiana Galleria and the Galleria Lapidaria, both closed to ordinary tourists. In our brief time there we did not even come close to seeing all that the Vatican has squirreled away. The rest of the morning was spent seeing the treasures of the Vatican, including the restored Sistine Chapel ceiling. In the afternoon we gathered at the obelisk in the center of the grand elliptical piazza in front of St. Peter's before we went inside to look at the Pietà, the baldacchino and the giant blue mosaic letters circumscribing the interior of the cupola, hundreds of feet above the floor (the inspiration for our Pietra typeface). The highlight of the afternoon was to be a special tour of the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (the Vatican Library). Unfortunately, it turned out to be a major disappointment when, despite confirmation of our appointment before we left, we were denied entrance. Furthermore, the Prefect who had scheduled our visit was out of town so our appeals for admission to the Swiss Guards fell on deaf ears. [We have reconfirmed our appointment for the 1998 trip already and have been assured that this time there will be no bureaucratic confusion.] When the Vatican Library visit failed to materialize the group split up. Some went off to see Santa Maria in Trastevere (sight of the dove carving that Garrett has rubbed many times), others to climb the cupola of St. Peter's to the roof (where one gets a stunning view of Rome), and a few to other sites. Henrik Birkvig and I went north in search of Fascist lettering and an obelisk erected by Mussolini.

Saturday, October 4.
This was our out-of-Rome excursion day -- a chance to rest our feet as a modern charter bus took us first to Tivoli to see Hadrian's Villa and then to see the Villa d'Este. Hadrian's Villa is largely ruins devoid of lettering. But the sheer size and diversity of the Villa (a misnomer since it was closer to a town or village) is astounding. For those with an archeological bent this was a very rewarding stop. The Villa d'Este is one of the most amazing garden sites near Rome. Despite a reduction of its many fountains due to worries about air and water pollution the grounds are still a riot of spraying, spritzing and cascading water laid out in a formal French manner on a hillside. It is one of the most pleasant places to relax (also popular for wedding photos!) and provided a fitting conclusion to our week of letter-seeking. On our return we drove along the Appian Way. I had organized a lunch feast of antipasti, wine and bread which we ate in the shade of some ruins across the road from the large fortress-like circular Tomb of Cecilia Metella that dominates the countryside. Several inscriptions are stuck into its walls. After lunch we finished our outing with a stop at the catacombs of San Callisto. In the evening our group celebrated its week's accomplishments with a lavish going-away dinner at an outdoor restaurant. It was a saint's day so a lively festival was taking place just down the street. By this time everyone had become good friends and it was difficult to finally end the evening (and the Tour) and head back to the hotel. During dinner we toasted several birthdays (mine, Robin Williams, and Amelio, our hotelier). Afterwards we made one last trip to the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps...and for gelato.

Sunday, October 5.
In the morning we said our final good-byes as everyone exchanged addresses and phone numbers (and e-mail addresses) and enjoyed one last cappuccino at the Hotel Nerva before striking off in our own directions. Most headed back to their homes in Europe and America. I finished up my part of the tour by trying once again (unsuccessfully) to get into San Giorgio di Velabro and (with greater luck) visiting Santa Sabina where I not only saw the large mosaic lettering at the rear but discovered some intriguing tomb inscriptions. Jill and Ezma headed north to Florence. John and Robin were off to Venice. Bob and Barbara lingered in Rome on their own for another few days, which is what I imagine most of us really wanted to do.

Postscript:
The 1997 Tour was not without its bumps and wrong turns, but for a maiden voyage it was quite a success. It brought together a diverse group of people, all of whom pitched in to provide their own expertise on various sites and history. The camaraderie among the group has persisted. The West Coast members gathered for reunions in January and in June, 1998. Several participants have visited one-another in their respective home cities and many have found enduring new friends.

Rome is a city that one never fully knows. Garrett and I are eager to return to not only share with others an experience of enrichment we've come to know, but to continue to discover new things ourselves. We welcome new and returning participants on our  pilgrimages to Rome and to other centers of lettering history.

 

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