March 25, 2023

I woke up this morning and took the metro to the Colosseum. The only tickets available right away were for a guided tour, which I reluctantly joined. The tour guide was from California and seemed like this tour might be the one that pushed her over the edge - she often took asides to heckle other tour guides and tourists through the microphone connected to our earpieces. The Colosseum is big and old and architecturally impressive and terrifying when you think of it from the perspective of the people who were forced to fight to the death in its center. Originally there were large canvas shades stretched over the stands to prevent the people of Classical Antiquity from getting the sunburns of Classical Antiquity from the sun of Classical Antiquity, the very same shining weakly on me in the cool spring morning. Long ago the entire interior was set with marble, and long after yet still long ago, all the marble was ripped off and pillaged for the metal mounting brackets. It was, at times, a magnificent donkey stable.

I was able to peel off while exploring the Palantine Hill, one of Rome's famous seven. I wondered how much the seven hills of Rome contribute to the sort of general mystique that the number seven has. The hill is a massive complex of ruined palaces, gardens, apartments, and temples. Broken aqueducts slump in long rows. Profoundly peaceful: cool breeze, birds twittering, wildflowers everywhere in bloom. The site, like seemingly everywhere in Rome, has burned down several times. I saw Romulus's hut from which he overlooked the Tiber, watching out for - who? the Etruscans? Surely he had never heard of Gaul, the Celts, the Goths, or the Huns. Were they even yet telling of Aeneas's abandonment of Dido, and did he know of the Cartago they would eventually delenda est? He had no concept of the Danube, or of war elephants, or of the Alps; nor of how far his language would spread at swordpoint, such that I, from an ocean away and standing in front of his hut almost 2,800 years later, would say "grazie" (Latin: "gratias") to the docent lady standing right there bored out of her mind watching me look at a pile of rocks. It always comes back to Troy.

Wandering through a garden unearthed in the 1800s, I was quite jolted to come across a sign for "Boni's Tomb." (I checked and yes, I was still standing there and seemingly alive.) Giacomo Boni was an archaeologist who discovered a large section of the Palantine Hill, talked a lot about gardens, and then died and was buried in his own garden. In a broken mix of Italian, Spanish, and English, I managed to ask a few Italians if Boni was a common surname in Italy, and they said no, not really. In exchange for my story of coming across the tomb, one extremely bored and friendly docent let me see a fresco from the first century BC which is usually reserved for special ticketholders. It was huge and faded and faintly showed ancient anonymous people. She said she had studied Latin, so I asked her if she thought common Italian hand gestures derived in some way from Latin. She didn't think so.

At the foot of the hill is the Forum, which I always thought was a particular building, but actually refers to a chaotic palimpsest of fallen marble, archways, shrines, and temples. Tons of people were winding through the cobblestone pathways, speaking all different languages - mostly Latinate, tongues come on pilgrimage. Each edifice had many histories, and almost all had, again, burned. I had no idea concrete and marble were so flammable. Ancient inscribed archways, scattered columns piercing a sapphire sky, the weight of centuries and empires risen and fallen and the incontemplatable endless interminable sunshine and wind and rain and time's ceaseless unrelenting hurtle & etc. etc.

Afterwards I was exhausted and sat at a little outdoor restaurant and ate bread with tomato sauce and prosciutto and soppressata and a big ball of mozzarella and gnocchi and tiramisu and an Aperol spritz and a cappuccino and a limoncello and the waitress made excited "eeeeee" sounds every time she brought out a plate not unlike a parent doing the airplane thing with the forkful of food to a child and every time she took a cleaned plate she said "good job!" again parentlike and I remember at one point as she brought out another plate thinking "my God woman I'm full stop feeding me." On the walk home I stopped in a bookstore which had a photography exhibit going on. Lots of scenes of civil strife. I pointed out to the proprietor that one of the Italian military guys being protested looked like Paul McCartney. Then I walked all the way home and fell down into my bunk and passed out.