Wednesday, May 20, 2009

from Rome: ancient this and modern that

Time to be tourists. Leave the city of today, forget about her markets and cafés. Roll back to the beginning. The birth of the Empire that started here and went in all directions, before things sort of unraveled.

It’s a pleasantly hot and sunny day. We set out toward Piazza Venezia, walking down from our hotel, through the cheerfully yellow blocks of homes, stores and places of work.


If you begin at the Venezia, at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, then I suppose you cover all bases: here is a monument to those who have died in wars of yesterday. And there were a lot of battles and wars. To say nothing of adventure killings, pleasure spectacles of murderous games – all there. Or, all here, as we are standing in a place where it all began.

Okay, from the white typewriter – the dreadful to some, lovely to others, Monument that dominated Ancient Rome’s skyline, place of the Tomb mentioned earlier, looking out on Rome. Just to get our bearings.


It’s interesting to note the rules here: can’t sit, lean, eat, drink etc. Understandable. The space is large, but it is after all, a tomb. The guards unleash torrents of words against those who forget and, say, lean on a something. Very intimidating. The women guards are the loudest. It’s like getting scolded by the meanest teacher in grade school.

We are, therefore, very careful.

We take in the views from all sides, including toward the Colosseum…


… climb a few more steps and note that we have far too few bottles of water for the long hours in the hot sun. We purchase supplements at the café and walk on…

…to the Capitoline. This is our big museum stop – I’m going to say it is the oldest museum and surely what it holds is very old. Roman sculpture. Inside and out. Photographed from all angels. Admired by the young and old.



I lean on a column, thinking it’s just a piece of rock and get the Italian guard scream. Full of apologies, I explain that I didn’t know. She’s heard it all, I’m sure.

Inside, we read bits of history, quietly, reverently.
Did you say the flocking geese warned of the approach of the gulls?
No, of the approach of the Gauls.
I’m learning.

The Museum has a lovely terrace cafe and we linger for a while over lunch there. At the table next to ours, a woman sits alone and looks out toward Rome's rooftops. That's me, years back. All those years and years of solo travels!


But today, I am happily in the company of someone who makes me smile and smile.


This one:


Oh, wait. You probably wanted to see the view that captured our attention during the lunch hour(s). Here it is: Roman rooftops.


We leave the museum, where temporarily we have suspended our modesty, starring with admiration at the human form in all its sculptured splendidness, and where we refreshed ourselves next to photos that would, in other parts of the world, make some blush.


Outside now, I watch as a mom asks her youngest to take a photo of the sister and mom.


They're by the Roman Forum. And so are we. You could regard the idea of strolling here in the hot sun as sort of insane. But really, it’s the best place to stroll if you happen to be in Ancient Rome in midafternoon. Quiet. With the smell of Mediterranean foliage.



Again, there’s much to photograph, including the elements of art that are placed here deliberately, to juxtapose the significance of art elsewhere (Peru) and of another era (contemporary).


We spend a while here, even though you could regard it as sort of a sad place – destroyed by time, traffic, weather, tremors – every natural and human-made disaster. A mere several thousand years of history, reduced to rubble.

Our final stop is at the Colosseum. More water bottles. Higher prices. More people here. Indeed, swarms of people – school groups, tour groups, they all come here – the pictorial focal point of Rome.

My daughter and I stroll on all accessible levels of the amphitheater. It’s not yet the height of the season and the place is large. Not impossible to find a quiet spot. To take a photo and make it appear almost empty, despite the chaos of people coming and going.


The arches reveal the colorful neighborhood that cropped up on the other side…


…or, depending which way you look, the crumbling structures within.


I say to my daughter that it’s awfully dirty. Traffic, dust – they leave dark stains on the stone. But maybe it is a good way to see it. Cars scream past, oblivious. We move on in time, barely remembering that others have played and waged wars and done battles on these grounds not so long ago.

Outside the Colosseum we find a café that puts color right up front. A welcome change from antiquity.


As we walk away from Ancient Rome, I am reminded that this is home to families, to children, who still find strips of grass to play in and who probably barely notice that they are doing so against the backdrop of walls and columns.


Our dinner picks up on the modern. And on the color. It’s at Trattoria – a “new Sicilian” kind of place.


It’s quiet and serene and it knocks down stereotypes by avoiding the use of onion and garlic. And yet, the Sicilian is there: in the chickpea flatcakes, the caponata siciliana, the octopus and potatoes, the fried cheese.



It’s late and my daughter leads me through winding streets that seem somehow familiar. Ah, there we have it – the Trevi Fountain at night.


Policed here as well – after all, all the coins, and crowded, sure, of course, but still, not as much as it will be two months from now. And anyway, you can always find a spot for intimate conversations.


And if not here, then in a neighborhood café. Or tea shop.


Shoes off, plop down in bed, fall asleep. The next day should be more modern. But not entirely. A mixture. But wait – all days are a blend. Rome is like that.