We are in Rome! The heart of the empire… Civilization defined for one thousand years. Oh! Roma Termini, the main train station, is emblematic of modern travel. Functional, sleek, attractive to tourists with everything in English and touristy shops all over the place. Clean and sharp lines shape the place. We step into the streets to our hotel and only a hundred meters away the world is transformed… The streets of the newer side of Rome are lined by newer, fabricated buildings, empty wine bottles, smoldering cigarette butts, advertisements for accommodation and tours.
Now we are walking around the Palatine Hill and Forum area. It is not physically impressive like the vistas of Black Forest or even the Eiffel Tower, but these ruins contain a solemn crumbling majesty, testament to the longevity of stone over the vestiges of humanity. Naught is left of the Senate and the legions and the gladiators and the Republic but the physical foundations are still there. Well yes the impact of Rome on our society today cannot be denied, but where are the ancient Romans now? Stone will ever outlast Man.
Yet it is the significance of Roman civilization that weighs upon the very air of this place. The knowledge of a thousand years concentrated back into the heart of the empire… This is why Caesars ordered the destruction of provinces, architects conceived incredible monuments, artisans crafted incomparable wares, and politics as we know it takes form (well yes tribute to the Greeks too I guess). Ah! Rome.
On a parapet overlooking the Forum we see artists drawing the view. I am entranced by artists at work – the act of creation, ideas taking form, history recorded… There is something magical about it all. This is why I wish I could draw, or I could sing.
Ancient Rome is multilayered, things built on top of each other, successive layers of construction, each grander in scale. The engineering behind it all! To support such grandeur and height and immense facades. It makes me think of Minas Tirith, Tower of Guard, city of seven layers, built on the spine of a mountain…
As we enter the Colosseum the sky is quite literally looming, storm-grey clouds preparing to assault the earth with their fury. Okay, no fury and no wrath, just some wind, nothing like our thunderstorms back home. But you know, to create some mood. As we walk in I can imagine myself a first time gladiator, holding my gladius, peeing in my pants at the prospect of death on the sands. Or did they have pants then? The wind blows in between the columns and it’s dark. Death comes for ye! The crowd cheers, but it cheers for brutality and blood. The roar echoes the pounding of blood in your ears, a drumming tattoo that spells your doom. And yet after what feels like an eternity of insane combat it is over and now it is adulation of seventy-five thousand people. But remember that the only thing that the crowd loves more than a victory, is a victory over the victor… And so it starts all over again.
Ah! Blood and guts and the stink of death in the arena, mixed with a horrific fascination for the macabre. How many consider what has been shed on the rocks and sands as they pose for an Instagram shot (okay I have one too) that says hey look! I’ve been to the Colosseum so I’m cool.
Inside the Colosseum there are many exhibits and artifacts. We are lucky enough to come when there’s an exhibition on the time of Constantine, AD 313, to be exact. Marble statues are the most interesting things! How do sculptors tease out shapes from a single block? To make static stone flow into dynamic cloth, to make rock gain more expression than a thousand words. That creative impulse: can it be found in all mankind, just waiting for the individual to discover?
Now it’s time to get on the train in Rome. The station is something like the one in the Matrix where Neo fought Agent Smith. The carriages are like mini-MRT carriages, with 4 seats instead of our usual set of 8. All in all it’s not bad but compared to Germany! Maybe when I go to Scandinavia (hopefully) it will be even more impressive.
And now dinner in Rome! At a restaurant called Spagheteria dell’Archetto, two minutes from the extremely impressive Trevi Fountain. My order is a mussels, clams, shrimp pasta, cooked in brandy, garlic, and hot pepper. It’s called a Profuso Di Mare… I translate it roughly into a profusion from the sea. Woo! When it comes, there’s a prawn beautifully plated on top of a mountain of shellfish. There are (I counted) 10 clams and 13 mussels, all wonderfully fresh and juicy, with a touch of brine. With the oil-based pasta, woo! Yum. And the prawn is as good as its presentation, soft and oh-so-sweet, melting into juicy oblivion on the tongue. Ah. Italian food. I love thee.
My tiramisu arrives… I have been looking forward to you for so long! It is covered in cocoa powder. The bottom! The cream cheese! The coffee! That delectable dessert contraption known as tiramisu must be my favourite dessert. The cream could be smoother though… The coffee and cake part is good and moist. I do wish there was a little chocolate on it! Together with the sweet white wine it goes well. I hope I can find better tiramisu though! I love Italian food.
Here’s the quote of the day from Yan Yi regarding food: ‘eat things must eat GAO GAO one. If not eat for what?’ That’s right…
Today’s gelato is lemon, orange chocolate, and strawberry. Is good! Okay tomorrow brings the Vatican!