The city of Palestrina (also known by it’s ancient name of Praeneste) is a city of stairs. My sickly lungs burned and my bag and heavy tripod cut into my shoulders as the irregularly shaped ancient stairs continued with no end in sight. When one giant staircase ended, another began just around the corner. After 20 minutes of climbing we reached the summit at the Sanctuary and Temple of Fortuna Primigenia. For ancient Romans this must have been a very spiritual experience with less oxygen going to the brain due to the steep stairs. The ancient stage stretched out just above the sanctuary with the temple rising out of stage.
Today, a road runs through part of the ancient stage and a museum rests on top of the ancient temple. All around the city are beautiful examples of the Roman building technique called opus incertum. This technique involved using irregularly shaped stones and arranging them seemingly random within a concrete core.
We shot several stand-ups at the Temple and the Sanctuary before heading down the stairs into the town center. In the town center, a large duomo rests on the exposed blocks of an ancient Roman temple. This is not uncommon in Italy (or around the ancient world for that matter). Much like how the Catholic church incorporated Christian ideals into pagan holidays (Christmas, Easter), they also liked to build their churches directly on top of ancient temples. This helped facilitate the mass conversions during the rise of Christianity.
After we wrapped with the stand-ups, Dan wanted to get some B-roll (for those not film-inclined, B-roll refers to extra footage to insert into interviews. It prevents audience boredom and makes a film more interesting and dynamic so that you don’t have to stare at one person talking for 3 minutes). Dan seemed fixated on the bell tower of the church so Dr. Soren went inside to see if we had permission to film from the top.
After a few minutes, Dr. Soren came out saying that he had gotten permission. Dan and I walked inside the church. A short Indian man (who was one of the padres assistants) spoke decent English and helped open the small door that led to a series of metal ladders. Dan and I stepped inside and were immediately hit with a stench of death and feces. We were warned that no one ever goes up the bell tower. The Indian man seemed squeamish that we wanted to enter that area in the first place. As Dan and I climbed, we stepped on several inches of pigeon poop and corpses. We climbed about 8 ladders before reaching the top.
Upon reaching the top of the bell tower, we realized that the enormous bells were only inches from us. If the bells rang (which they did every 15 minutes) we would either be bashed to death, knocked from the tower, or deafened by their chimes. Dan told me to egress and began to snap pictures. I didn’t need to be told twice. I grabbed the tripod and bag and headed down from the tower. My hands were covered in pigeon droppings and I could feel an unknown substance squishing beneath my feet.
When I reached the bottom I waited for Dan to come out of the tower. Hopefully it would be alive. He finally came out of the door. The Indian man seemed nervous; like we were cursed beings. Dan offered to show him pictures from the top and he politely, but very sternly, refused. I’m guessing entering the bell tower is some form of local superstition.
We all went out to lunch at a restaurant called Albergo’s and had a lot of laughs. Dr. Soren drank a little too much wine too fast and was in rare form. Dan is commonly the one he likes to pick on. I could immediately tell that Dr. Soren was about to try and trick Dan into something.
"You know, I was in Tunisia this one time," said Dr. Soren, straight faced. "And…well…we came up to farthfor of the village.”
"Yeah…" said Dan, with bated breath. "What’s…what’s a fart for?"
Dr. Soren immediately began cracking up laughing.
"I can’t believe I got you to say ‘fart for’," he said between hysterics.
Dan didn’t realize what he had said until a few minutes later and we all joined in the laughter.
After lunch, we all piled into the car and headed back to Orvieto, driving through golden fields of wheat and enormous vineyards.
research / travel / musings
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