Second Day in Rome

Our plans shifted as soon as we met up with Harrie and Sonja this morning (which means noon). Most of the places we wanted to see were in the general area of the Coliseum, which we walked to yesterday, and the Vatican was just beyond that area. So, instead of taking the bus tour, we decided to walk.

The streets were filled with walkers today but not a lot of cars. Pay phones are a common site on the main streets.

On our way back to the Coliseum, we stopped at Bar-Pasticceria Ciardo for a pizza. The waiter was hyperactive in seven languages, including Spanish, which he said he learned from watching TV, though once Emily started talking with him she discovered that he combined Spanish with Italian for his own version of Spitalian. Emily and I tried a pizza with anchovies again, hoping for an improvement over yesterday’s. We got it, and split a gorgonzola pizza as well.

Eating outside gives you the benefit of street excitement but you also are hit by street vendors selling long-stemmed roses, blankets and fabrics, wooden serving bowls, toys and stuffed animals, and an assortment of  cheap items that can’t possibly support the young men selling them. We wondered who actually profited from the sales and whether the hawkers were more like slaves who got punished if they didn’t sell enough on any day, like young prostitutes who get beaten by their pimps if they don’t sell enough of themselves.

The guy in the next table smoked a cigarette, unfortunately upwind from us. A drunk old man who must be a regular feature of that street breathed over Harrie’s shoulder and said something in German that Harrie thought was “Let it all shine through” until the waitress shooed him away. A police car’s siren reminded Emily and me instinctively of any Holocaust film we’ve ever watched.

Every meal at every restaurant takes a long time. Service is slow but not because it’s bad. Rather, it’s because you are encouraged to take your time. They are in no rush to give you “il conte.”

Emily doesn’t speak fluent Italian but she gives it her best shot everywhere she goes. By the time we left the restaurant, the wait staff was ready to tip her.

I don’t say a lot. I let Emily do most of the talking. But one thing I learned: You can smile in any language. And say “Visa.”

Our first stop was the Forum of Augustus, the old marketplace, where ancient pillars still revealed the majesty that used to exist there. As the center of town, it had herb gardens, an old prison, a monastery, possibly an aqueduct, and much more. But mostly it had statues of great figures in Roman history, most of whom were relatives of Augustus, intentionally to build up his leadership credentials. Today the complete forum is intersected by a road that Mussolini built. According to Sonja, the stones that were used on the original structures that were replaced by the road were used to build churches.

Churches are everywhere. When in doubt, any building is likely either a church, a monument to an emperor, or a pizza parlor. In fact, I’m pretty sure the word “piazza” is old Latin for “city of pizzas.”

Other sites:

  •  The monument to Hadrian was a phallic symbol that reminded me of the Washington Monument.
  • Trevi Fountain is a magnificent structure that is, as Sonja described it, a big fountain in a small square. To filmgoers it is known as the fountain from Three Coins in a Fountain with Marcello Mastroianni and Anita Ekberg.
  • The Pantheon #1: An interesting-looking building with eleven pillars and a wall. I feigned wonder but was secretly disappointed until Harrie said, “Oh, that’s not the Pantheon. My mistake.”
  • The Pantheon #2: Much more impressive. Built 200 years after Jesus by Agrippa, then rebuilt by Hadrian and expanded after the original burned down. Because of the holiday today we couldn’t get inside but Sonja said a hole in the ceiling was built so the gods could enter. I wondered why they didn’t just use the door like everyone else.
  • Four Streams Fountain surrounded by a chariot racing track. Merchants spread out their wares on the bricks, so many we had to look down as we walked to avoid tripping over them. Portrait painters were busy. Gold- and black-painted real-life statues moved only when you gave them money. Harrie kicked a change can accidentally; the guy made a face that wasn’t part of his routine. I told Harrie he had to give him a Euro.
  • The Vatican: The long line moved quickly. At the front, we placed our bags and cameras on the conveyor belt that x-rayed the insides as we walked through the scanner. Sonja and Harrie both set off the bell but no one stopped us. Today being All Saints’ Day there was a service going on inside. I hoped to see the pope though I couldn’t imagine him actually showing up. I was disappointed but not surprised.

As we wound our way through the many side streets going from one site to the next, Emily was fascinated with the buildings; I was fascinated with the cobblestone streets. Emily kept saying, “Look up”; I kept saying, “Look down.” We made eye contact midway one time as she went from up to down and I went from down to up. We smiled at each other. I said, “Had enough? Ready to go back to Ann Arbor?” I wasn’t surprised at her answer.

We must have walked at least ten miles today, mostly through crowded side streets.

A street fortune teller said to me, “You will get claustrophobia.”