If you visit Rome, I recommend you do as we did and take the metro to Flaminio to the Piazza del Popolo. When you climb up the stairs, you’ll feel the hustle of a busy city. You’ll hear the honks of impatient people. You’ll see the litter, the plastic bag floating by, and the souvenir and newspaper shop on the corner. Then, you walk around a corner and WHAM! you’re in ROME! Standing there on the street and looking through the arches has about the same contrast as Kansas and the land of Oz.
You walk through what was once the grandiose northern entrance into the city. The elegant elliptical piazza was used for centuries as a site for public executions. In the center stands a 36 m piece of loot — an obelisk from ancient Egypt. Beyond it twin baroque churches tower over the red bricks. You’ll stand there, stunned, under the arches created by Bernini to celebrate the Queen of Sweden’s defection to catholicism. You’ll stand there, with your mouth open, and gawk. Then, you’ll take a few steps toward the fountains surrounding the obelisk and you’ll utter your “oooohs” and “aaaaahhhs.”
Walk through the twin churches and into the cobbled streets of Rome. Here is where you’ll see the charming shuttered windows, the double doors with iron hinges, the white awnings and tables with white table clothes. Here you’ll see the little shops bearing the big names of Fendi, Armani, D & G, and Valentino. Wander through the narrow lanes and watch the Vespas and scooters swish by. Press against the walls while cars and even busses squeeze through the ancient streets.
We finally arrived at what we call “The Spanish Steps,” but in Italy it is called Scalinata dell Trinita dei Monti. At this point, it began to rain. Rome gets 270 days of sunshine and more rain than London. So when it rains, it rains. We jumped under the awning of a little boutique and others crowded around us. The Italians used the moment to light up a cigarrette, chat, and laugh before braving the elements. The peddlars came out of the woodwork sporting umbrellas and selling them. The Americans bought umbrellas or took taxis to their destinations.
When the rain stopped, we wandered toward the ‘sinking boat’ fountain and ascended the steps. The steps are so wide and tall that several groups of people can lounge on them and not block them completely. To our right stands the house where Keats died.
The steps aren’t actually Spanish but got its name from the Piazza di Spagna which was named after the Spanish Embassy to the Holy See. The French gave Rome the steps along with the church at the top of them, Trinita dei Monte. From the Spanish steps, we wandered down the Via del Tritone to the Fontana di Trevi. The baroque fountain showcases Neptune’s chariot being led by seahorses. It almost fills an entire piazza and is Rome’s most famous fountain. It is absolutely lovely and I wished I had Paul there to enjoy such a romantic spot. La Dolce Vita is only complete if the love of your life is with you.
The next day, we visited the Pantheon – the temple built to all gods by Augustus’ Caesar’s best friend, Agrippa. Augustus Caesar (Octavian) had the temple built to reignite interest in the religion of the day because Rome was crumbling and Octavian could see it. He knew the people needed to return to faith – to hope and good deeds, to hard work and simple virtues, to building rather than consuming – Rome was a crumbling empire without a foundation anymore. Along with this temple to all of the gods, Octavian also commissioned Virgil to write the Aeneid. WhenVirgil read the first draft to him, Octavian was very pleased, but Virgil never was. I think it was because Virgil didn’t really believe in the gods anymore. It is a blood-sweating assignment to write something you don’t believe in.
From the Pantheon we went to the Piazza Navona with a circle of four fountains. We ate at the local Campo Fiori (field of flowers) where the tents and the busy market was and where a few of us spotted Wilhelm Dafoe. The next day was the Vatican. I got lost in looking at the many things and had to rush to the Sistine Chapel. I stared for a long time at the Last Judgment – at Michelangelo’s skin hanging loosely over the demons and the lost souls. We met at another piece of loot – an Egyptian obelisk crowned by a cross. We gazed at Castel San Angelo and stopped at the 14 stations of the cross. Between the angels on the Ponte San Angelo, I sketched the bridge over the Tiber River and the Vatican.
The next day was the coliseum and Circus Maximus. Father Bruno compared the buildings to a stimulus package – a way for the wealthy and powerful to pacify the masses – get them to forget they were starving. Building the stadiums provided jobs for awhile, made the rich really rich, and fed the masses a diet of blood to satiate the anger and hatred in their hearts. Revolt was what the ruling class feared. People realizing what is happening must remain hidden. It was an ingenious plan. You can’t argue too much with free bread and entertainment. The Roman mob, starving and stinking, having nowhere to go, no hope or future, cheered for their gladiators and ate the bread during the half-time entertainment of the Christians being thrown to the lions. But of course, it couldn’t last. It wasn’t a solution. And TANSTAAFL: There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.
But I didn’t think about stimulus packages and government solutions while I stood there looking at the paths for the chariot races. I tried to feel the thirst, the anger, see the filth and the fight, the gore, hear the cheers, and bet on the brutal games. I stood there and felt the momentary power of transporting oneself elsewhen. I didn’t pass judgment – it all comes from within. Out of the heart, the mouth speaks. I breathed deeply and felt the decadence, sampled the plates of humming bird tongues, gloried in the profane art, ignored the sexual diseases, licked the decay, chewed the rotting, and joined in the toppling of Rome.