Another in a short series of guest blogs. Good news – my sister has relented and says I can come with her next time. Well – sort of. Read on.
If I lived in Rome, I would be elegant.
I met up with my friend Ger and we started walking: Spanish steps (check), Trevi Fountain (check), Pantheon (oh my yes check), but meanwhile I was looking at the clothes in the shop windows. All so stylish, all so elegant, I didn’t even know where to start. But if I lived here I would just know.
Ger and I stopped into this one strange little store where, I kid you not, there were five garments. Just five. The shopkeeper was about 1000 years old, hunched, with carrot orange hair, only half her teeth, and black ankles. Of the five garments, however, was a silver velvet dress, only one (of course) that fit Ger perfectly (no mean feat given that she is, ahem, a hard size to fit.) The crone made up some kind of price and off we went with the dress.
I suspect if I walked back there today, however, I would find the shop and the woman (and maybe the dress) no longer exist. Maybe never really existed. It was such a weird little place. Such is Rome the week after Halloween.
After breakfast today I headed off to see Rome. The line was significant at the Coliseum so I heeded a friend’s advice and found a tour guide.
“Can you get me past the line?”
“Yes,” she said, “and you can also find out what you are looking at.” Right, that too.
You can’t prepare yourself for the scale of the Coliseum, particularly the height. The building could hold 70,000 people and had a massive pit for sets, animals, gladiators and those condemned to death who would be brought up to the stage on lifts. The drainage system designed is still completely effective today when other parts of Rome flood.
I had no idea that my tour included the Palatine hill above the Coliseum but I wasn’t about to say no. This is a massive archaeological site where a bunch of emperors lived, and there is enough left that your imagination can fill in what’s needed to be boggled.
I found myself reflecting on marble. The Coliseum and all of the massive buildings on the Paladine were all covered in marble, none of it native to Rome. Not a cheap endeavour.
Since the fall of the empire most of the marble was, um, liberated for the construction of the Vatican, including the massive columns now in St Peters Square. Over the years poor Romans chipped away the underlying brick to steal the iron supports.
Back on to Rome’s nifty and cheap subway system, and over to St Peter’s Square. The square itself wasn’t very busy, but the line into the church was daunting, and alas no one was selling tours to get me in. So I wandered around the massive square, now of course knowing where the columns come from.
I was thinking about what humans are capable of given the motivation… the Empire was about power, money, advancement… and certainly the Church is about those things too. Add to that a lot of average people contributing to extraordinary feats of art and engineering in support of a search for meaning. People sure can give you a lot to think about when you have a moment to do so.
As I approached the square I was struck by how quiet everything was. I can imagine how a practicing Catholic could not help but be overwhelmed. I was sure close.
I think it’s only in Rome where you see so many flocks of nuns and packs of priests. Young ones, old ones, ones texting on their phones.
Here’s where all you sensible people would have parted ways with me. I walked back from St Peters rather than taking the subway. I wanted to see as much as possible, and I wanted to cross the river with my own two little (ruined) feet. Which I did. Remember – at the end of the walk were the Spanish Steps to be climbed.
I can report that I have picked up enough Italian to meet most of my needs, as long as those needs are limited to getting myself fed and onto the subway… although I did supply accurate directions to a nice man taking his mother to the Vatican… the question was asked and answered in French.
And as for today’s reader questions, Barbara you can come on my next trip to Venice only if no one has stepped up to claim the prize and no, Mum, so far no one has pinched my bum.
Btw, I am aware that no one actually asked for these emails, but you are doing me a favour by giving me a reason to think about and write down the stuff in my head. I’m taking you with me whether you want to come or not, and as a result I’m not as lonely. So thank you.
Not to worry, I’m not going to report boring work stuff to you so you might not get another till Tuesday, when we break mid-afternoon and I will go racing out to see more stuff.