06 October 2009

Roma: Day IV

The other day while searching the bowels of my computer for a lost file, I came across a travelogue I'd written nearly 10 years when I went to Rome on vacation. At the time, I shared it with a few friends. And it seems appropriate to share it here now. Enjoy.

A funny thing happened on the way to the Forum. Rain. 

No, not the gentle, amble-about-in-the-drizzle rain, but a New Mexican-style, gully-washer that breaks the umbrella. Three times I try to go the Forum, and each time it rains as if Noah has just completed the ark.

Today, I am going to the Forum, come hell or high water. Literally.

The morning is beautiful, sunny and almost warm. Kate goes to the Vatican – after being soaked twice earlier she vows to be indoors and no where near me when I defy the gods.

OK, I say, and take off walking. On the way, the blue skies disappear. Rain begins to fall gently, then harder. I hail a cab. By the time the driver drops me off at the temple of Venus, the rain pounds the ground so hard drops spring up and soak my shoes, my ankles, my knees.

I walk on. Soon wet to the waist.

I pass the gladiators who mug for photos in front of the Colosseum. They are sheltering in ancient alcoves, smoking. I trudge up the Via Sacre as the artists scramble past, their works stuck under their coats. I ignore the tourists huddled under the arch of Titus.

And then, at the ruins of the Basilica of Constantine, the rain slacks off. By the time I reach the Temple of Romulus, the clouds are thinner and the rain is light and pleasant, like Paris in the spring. At the Temple of the Vestals, I look around and finally notice that the place is deserted. The gypsy children are not out picking pockets. The tourists are gone. The souvenir hawkers with the replica colosseums that would make a great soap dish for my bathroom have closed shop and gone home.

I am as alone as one can be in the Forum.

I smile. The gods are with me after all.

Lost in thought I wander through history lessons. The temple of Saturn. Its builders used granite columns to keep the god bound so he would not cause discord. A temple built when young, beautiful Faustina of the talented tongue, died too soon. The Senate didn’t want her unique gift lost to the world, so they deified her (and I’ll leave her eternal pursuits to your imagination).

This small door leads to the cloaca maximus, the sewer of Roma. It’s large enough for an elephant to move through it, which happened thanks to the games in the Colosseum, and these ruts in the stones were caused by thousands of chariots over a thousand of years racing from the curia to the Palatine and beyond.

There is also something about rain and ruins that settle the soul. My my mind slows and quiets, and I understand what the Sibylline whispers.

In Greek mythology, Athena, the goddess of wisdom, springs fully formed from the head of Zeus. I always thought that was odd, even for the Greeks, but now I understand it. Insight comes not in increments, but in bounds, fully formed. Suddenly, we see what was before us all along.

I feel blessed. An Epiphany, like love and the perfect cup of coffee, is something for which you have to be awake.

The rain starts anew and I wander off, over the Capitol, past Circus Maximus to the Tiber and walk along the water as I head back to the hotel to dry off and get warm.

Tomorrow: In the steps of the English

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