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Hostel Owner Drinks Himself into the Hospital, Gives Me the Keys, and I Visit Verano Cemetery: Prt 2

Once Mario had disappeared with the paramedics down the stairs, having just secured from me a reluctant promise to visit him in the hospital, I was alone in the Navigator Hostel. As I recall, this was fairly late in a day that had been emotionally exhausting, so I just had a smoke and went to bed.

Early the next morning after coffee from a neighbouring cafe, a few cigarettes, and ablutions (gloriously private in the empty place), I sat down at the computer and looked online to find out where San Giovanni Hospital was. Quite close by it turned out, easy walking distance. I made ready for a day of photography - my satchel, the camera, empty photo cards, some food and water - and headed out. During the walk, I decided to lie to Mario and tell him that I had a hospital phobia and that I was really pushed to my psychological limits just to make this visit. I knew that without this lie, Mario would have me bringing stuff to his room many times a day. He was that kind of guy.

Within short order I arrived at the hospital, found Mario's room despite some language-based difficulty and saw the man himself. He looked a lot better than yesterday. He was still yellowish and bleary, but a combination of drugs and intravenous feeding had helped a lot. I gave him my phobia story right away, not wanting to be at his beck and call even more now that I was standing there. He said he understood and began singing my praises and showering me with rank flattery. I understood. I was a relative stranger who was now responsible for his business. He took it even farther, though, when he told me to open the hostel's safe, take out 1000 Euros in cash, and send the money to my now pregnant girlfriend (and now, wife) Lisa. "There is nothing more important than family! For the baby!"

He gave me the combination for the safe on a slip of paper, I thanked him and assured him the Navigator was and would be fine, and got the hell out of there.

Once out on the street, I decided to save checking out the safe and the money for later. It was around ten o'clock, and I had a whole day of walking around taking photographs ahead of me. By this point, I had spent days documenting the areas around the Colosseum and the Vatican. It was time for something new and random, so I put the Tiber River vaguely behind me and started walking in a more or less arbitrary direction.

The above grab from Google Earth (click on it to trigger that view) indicates San Giovanni (x), the Navigator (y), and what turned out to be my final destination that day, the Verano Monumental Cemetery (z).

Aka "Campo Verano", officially the "Communal Monumental Cemetery of Campo Verano," and "Cimitero del Verano" or "Cimitero Monumentale al Verano" in Italian.

I've always really enjoyed old cemeteries, having cut my teeth on one of the best - Ross Bay Cemetery in Victoria, BC. Give me mature trees, winding paths, and an assortment of statuary and mausoleums, and I'm a happy man. Campo Verano delivers in a big way, with 80 hectares to wander in and around five million internments to contemplate.

"The Verano Monumental Cemetery has been a burial site for at least twenty centuries, as demonstrated by the remains of a Roman necropolis known as the Catacombs of Santa Ciriaca.

The name Verano refers to the fact that the land once belonged to the Verani, a senatorial family at the time of the Roman Republic.

Established along the Via Tiburtina consular road during the Napoleonic reign of 1805-1814, in accordance with the Edict of Saint Cloud of 1804, which stipulated that burial sites be located outside of city walls, the project was assigned to the architect Giuseppe Valadier in the years 1807 to 1812.

The cemetery was consecrated in 1835, with work continuing during the papacies of Gregory XVI and Pious IX, under the supervision of Virginio Vespignani.

Further construction work was performed even after Rome became the Capital of the newly united Italy (1870-1871), with large plots of land being added to the complex, such as the Villa Mancini, which included the Pincetto area.

The main entrance with its three openings, rendered even more imposing by four large statues depicting Meditation, Hope, Charity and Silence, precedes a large, four-sided portico designed by Vespignani and completed in 1880.

The present-day arrangement dates from the restoration following the bombing of the San Lorenzo neighbourhood (19 July 1943), in which three areas of the Cemetery were damaged: the monumental entrance, with the four-sided portico and the Pincetto area, plus the administrative offices and the zone in front of the Military Memorial.

The Verano Monumental Cemetery, with its rich heritage of art, stands as an open-air museum without equal in terms of the quantity and features of the works to be seen: an incalculable treasure from the point of view of history, art and culture."

I enjoyed my time at Campo Verano immensely. It was the perfect blend of beauty, history and melancholy that was a balm after the craziness of dealing with Mario. I spent of couple of hours there before my energy started to wane and I started thinking of heading back to the hostel, maybe have a look in that safe. I regret, though, that I never made it to the grave condominiums pictured in the screen grab above. At least a third of the cemetery hosts these high-density solutions to an imbalance in the corpse/acreage ratio. The photo heading this article is one I took inside a smaller, open air version of one of these.

Photos by me

I've been fascinated by the angelic sculpture in the upper right corner, above, since I photographed her, and I just found this info at Italian Ways:

"Giulio Monteverde (1837-1917) dedicated much of his talent to funerary sculpture. One of his favorite themes was the Angel of Death (or Angel of the Night), which he portrayed in a number of variations, now in burial sites as far apart as Ferrara and Madrid.

The most famous one might be the one created for the Oneto family monument in the cemetery of Staglieno, in Genoa; the Angel of the Night ... is in the Quadriporticus of Campo Verano, one of Rome’s cemeteries, on the tomb of Primo Zonca.

This time the melancholic figure of an androgynous angel, deep in thought and with its wings folded back, looks up at the sky."

Photos by me

One curious thing I found was a cylindrical mausoleum with the door open and contents as indicated by the above three photos, some kind of a shrine dedicated to fascism and Benito Mussolini. At the time, I thought that perhaps this was Mussolini's grave, but research on the matter since has revealed that he is buried elsewhere. Standing there gave me a strange feeling, though, knowing that this place celebrated an ideology that I am fundamentally opposed to.

Here's a passage from my LiveJournal to help round this out:

"Thursday, October 6th, 2005 - 2:57 pm - Mini update on my status Well, well, well. One never knows what is around the corner, and yesterday proved that in highly dramatic fashion. Two days ago, Mario returned from the hostel, much improved, sober, rational, like a different person. Accompanying him was his girlfriend, Viola, a woman with no tolerance for bullshit and a very, very short leash indeed on her wayward boyfriend. Overnight, everything at the hostel changed. I went from complete freedom to none whatsoever. The kitchen got locked at 9 p.m., with my beer inside. The lights went out at 11 p.m. - not even the option of sitting in the common area with a book. "You go to bed now." The 11 a.m. to 2:20 p.m. lockout was strictly enforced - leave the hostel, now, because we are cleaning. Mario was apologetic throughout, but made it clear that she was wearing the pants and he had no choice in the matter (hardly surprising, because when he has a choice in the matter he gets drunk and naked).

Here's where it all went sideways. Hostelworld, the site I found the hostel through, has a feedback/review option. That option was made available to me on the day that Mario went into the hospital, the day he stood naked with a knife behind me. I wrote an honest review, giving the hostel the lowest possible marks on just about all the categories. Yesterday, Mario confronted me with that (turns out the reviews are identifiable) and, at Viola's insistence, kicked me out."

It's been fifteen years since this all happened, and writing this entry has forced me to examine the unreliability of memory. I have told this story many times and thought I had the sequence down pat. However, looking back at my LiveJournal entries about it prove I was wrong about a couple things, and forgot about one important event and one important person altogether. When I started writing this, I glanced back at my LiveJournal entries to establish some dates but I didn't read through all of it. That I did as I'm finishing this up and, goodness me, it turns out I'm as fallible as anyone else.

For one, it seems that Mario offered me the money and actually opened up the safe and actually gave me the money on the day he went to the hospital. Now that I know it, my mind is trying to flesh it out, but I clearly forgot that detail. I also forgot that Mario and his girlfriend arrived the day before I got kicked out. In my memory, they arrive and immediately kick me out, but no. There's a whole other day in there when she was cracking the whip in an attempt to right the ship. I also forgot all about Simon, a friend (kind of) of Mario's who came over to try to convince Mario to go to the hospital and who also, heroically, mopped up all the piss on the floor in Mario's room.

So there you go. I'll end with a quote that written in pen in a feminine hand on the inside of a paperback that was lying around the Navigator,

"Dear Mario - You were mean, man! Didn't have to be! Hope your surgery went well - did it make you nicer too? *Chao*"

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