Our daughter Kathy’s birthday was a few days
before our trip, but she wanted to wait to
celebrate in Italy. She had been there in 1987
with Pepperdine’s Florence program. Carl
and Frankie Mitchell, former missionaries to
Italy, provided each student who had a birthday
with a cake called millefoglie (thousand
leaves)—a delicious cake with many layers of
pastry and cream.
It came to symbolize the Italian way of doing
things. While in Los Angeles we tend to tear
down old buildings and build new ones in their
place, in Rome they just layer eras of history
on top of each other.
On Tuesday, our second day in Italy, we took
two Cotral buses and the Metro to San Pietro
in Vincoli to see Michelangelo’s Moses, and
then walked down to the Colosseum. They
were retrofitting it to strengthen the structure
and save it from pollution and the vibration of
so many cars.
They’d restored part of the wooden floor, which
would have been covered with sand when it
was in use, as well as a section of the original
stairs and the emperor’s reviewing stand
where a thumb up or down could mean life or
death to the combatants.
As we started up the Via Sacra to the Forum, it
started to rain, then pour, then thunder shook
the ground. We all got drenched. We saw
some of the Forum, but missed the Palatine
and Capitoline and started back to the villa.
The next day was Wednesday, and we
repeated the process, taking the early bus and
the Metro across the city to the Vatican. At the
Vatican Museum, we walked through the
history of the papacy from Egypt to the 21st
Century, arriving at last at the Sistine Chapel,
where Robert actually got a photo of the ceiling
and shushed someone who was yelling not to
Rain started again just as we left for St.
Peter's. There we saw the Pietà, which
Katyana loved, and Bernini's Altarpiece with its
canopy over Peter's tomb.
On our way out, I was about to drop from all the
walking. I found this little out-of-the-way
stairway of just a few steps with a flat, round
section beside it that was just the right height
to sit on. I had no sooner sat down when a
young man in a black suit and tie told me I
Frank took offense at the way he was speaking
to me, and I was afraid something might
happen. They just had words, thankfully, as
Frank defended his "71-year-old" wife!
That anybody could make peace-loving, easy-
going Frank Silvey violent was amazing,
Layers of History
Classical: Frank points out the interior of
the Colosseum (left), with its sections for
holding wild animals to be lifted to the
wooden floor for fights with gladiators,
Robert, Kathy, Katyana and I in front of the
Renaissance: Perry, Frank, and Paul in front of
Michelangelo's dome of St. Peter's in the
Vatican. Bernini's Apollo and Daphne at the
Villa Borghese (below).
18th and 19th Centuries:
Drawing of Byron (right) from
Keats-Shelley house in Rome.
Frank's brother and
sister-in-law Paul and Cari,
Robert and I, Kathy and
Katyana at Caffè Greco
(below), a popular restaurant
for artists, composers and
writers in Rome since 1791.
but the guy acted as if that chunk of stone
beside those few little steps was sacred.
We started to leave, but were going through
the door-going-in line instead of the
door-going-out line. It was incredible to think
that it mattered, but we had to walk some
distance out of our way to make the switch.
I decided that Fellini wasn't as original as I'd
thought, but was just picturing the oddities of
Rome as they are.
Thursday was a day of rest at the villa. Kathy
went shopping while Frank started the
laundry and I helped Katyana write a
postcard to a friend and wash her knee
where she'd skinned it in a fall.
Kathy found a bakery that made her cake,
and Frank went back to get it.
Kathy and Robert walked around the lake to
Castel Gandolfo where they saw a great little
church on the square.
Kathy made orange salad with calamari for
dinner, and we had her millefoglie cake and
sang "Happy Birthday" in English and Italian.
Then we all watched the video of our 50th
anniversary celebration and sang along with
it. We ended the day watching the sunset
over the lake, which was like molten lead
broken with bright pink splotches. Birds
wheeled overhead catching insects as we
sat on the balcony and watched the colors
We went back to Rome on Friday--this time to
the central part to see the ossuary of the
Capuchine Monastery, Trevi Fountain, which
was closed for repairs, and the Pantheon.
The ossuary is the place where generations
of monks were buried and their bones dug
up and placed in arrangements that serve at
once as memento mori and intricate
artworks. One is a clock with six hours and
one hand, indicating our lack of control over
The fountain is the site of the movie, Three
Coins in the Fountain. And I think the
Pantheon is the most perfectly proportioned
building in the world.
We had lunch at Caffè Greco near the
Spanish Steps and visited the Keats-Shelley
House and the Villa Borghese. The villa sits
in a large park, and the gallery is a
sophisticated collection of painted rooms
with gleaming white marble statues by
Bernini and Canova, busts of dead emperors
--and on that day, a very live Newt Gingrich.
Kathy's millefoglie birthday cake (below).