Monday, October 12, 2015

Roman Musings

Ah, Roma. That’s what natives call it. Others say it’s the Eternal City and we spent the whole week there. I got a good feel for the place, but I’ll need a lot more time to process my impressions.
Riley and Roseann at St. Peter's Square

Our Tuesday Colisseum tour was much better than the Vatican tour I mentioned last week. It was outside, not as crowded, and with better electronics between the guide’s microphone and my earphones. The Vatican had been, stuffy, crowded, and boring. It was too visual with all the paintings and marble inlay on floors, walls, and ceilings — and tapestries. Who likes them? There were lots of painted maps and those would have interested me if I had time to examine them, but we were moved along as if on an assembly line. The paintings showed people in togas or mostly nude, with lots of muscles, penises, beards and breasts. The guide told us Michelangelo was homosexual, as if she were giving us some inside information. I was glad when the tour was over.

 At left is God's butt by Michelangelo

Did I really care if Michelangelo resented the pope who hired him and so painted the Creator mooning us? No. Did I care that he resented a bishop so much that he painted him in hell with a snake consuming his family jewels for eternity?
Not really. I think everyone concerned had too much money and too much time. Yeah, Michaelangelo was a talented sculptor, painter, and architect, but likely high-maintenance as well.

The Colisseum made more sense. Those three Flavian emperors who built it spent lots of money to entertain the masses, and completed that impressive structure in only seven years. Remarkable. With an elaborate system of elevators and trap doors beneath the building’s floor, our guide said they pushed up gladiators to fight each other and wild animals to tear criminals apart in front of 50,000 spectators who all got in for nothing — but no Christians being eaten by lions, she insisted. This guide was a Sicilian archaeologist who spoke excellent English with very little accent. I understood everything. My 15-year-old grandson, Riley, was as fascinated by all this as he was bored by the paintings and sculptures at the Vatican.
Floor partially rebuilt to show what it was like

My Catholic education from second grade through high school emphasized Christian martyrs who died in the Colosseum, so I was surprised when she didn’t mention them. I asked why, and she said there was no evidence Christians were killed there and I didn’t challenge her. Later when I looked it up, I discovered different accounts — typical for history. Some said they were Christians martyred there and some said they were not. I guess the guide and others trusted only some accounts and distrusted others. That’s their right, of course, but to say there was no evidence? Certainly there are Catholic Church accounts, but our guide must have doubts about those. Whenever she mentioned the church or “the popes” as she described them, it was in a negative context. That was true for all three guides we hired during our one-week stay.
Entrance to old Church of St. Sebastian Palatine Hill

Then there was the Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill next door to the Colosseum. Nearly everything was in ruin, but our guide had images of what parts of it looked like in their prime — very impressive. We cannot know everything about how it looked because records are incomplete and images are scarce as well.
Interesting face in old Jewish Ghetto

For the last three days we hired a tour guide named Christian. With him, we walked around the city seeing the Spanish Steps, Jewish Ghetto, the Pantheon, as well as countless piazzas and fountains full of naked and half-dressed muscular guys, lots of women with breasts exposed, and boys next to fish squirting water. I liked walking up and down narrow streets with centuries-old buildings interspersed with millennia-old ruins. Throughout nearly the entire city was decades-old graffiti, never a good sign. Maybe what’s left of the empire will decline as well. Though it annoys my wife when I focus on graffiti wherever I see it, its presence or absence is, respectively, a sign of decline or of progress. It’s a barometer — a canary in the coal mine, so to speak.
Shrine to Mary above graffiti on old passageway

We returned Sunday after traveling for twenty hours, and I was very glad to get back to Maine, to my own bed, my own shower, my old routine. It’s marvelous that we can fly sitting in a chair seven miles high and cross continents and oceans in a day, but it’s still tiring. I don’t want to get back on one for a long while if I can help it. The older I get, the more I appreciate home. I’ll write more about the trip, but two columns in a row about Rome are enough for the time being. Don’t want to bore my readers.

1 comment:

aliledar said...

I agree with you completely, Tom, about not wanting to travel much any more - and as far as I'm concerned, not to big cities that are horribly crowded and not fun. I was in Rome 8 years ago and couldn't wait to get out to the countyside of Umbria. What was particularly disturbing for me was the emptyness of churches. I have always loved to go to churches to sit, lok and meditate but more and more I find them empty and I think of Oriana Fallaci who wrote so eloquently about the Muslim takeover of Europe's Christian/Catholic churches.
Change, graffiti, not good. Better stay home!