May 26, 2009

Day 12: All roads lead to..

Arriving in Rome was a heady feeling. Roma! How many books I have read, how many movies I have watched about Rome! Just walking on the streets was intoxicating - did Caeser walk the very steps, could I catch a strain of Nero's fiddle, was this here that they brought goods from Madurai in the start of the Christian era.. my mind was in a whirl of images and words.

At the station, Angeli E Demoni I noticed from the posters was coming up for release in the next month. We wandered out past the souvenir stalls towards the walled city-state of Vaticano. Vatican in itself is a fairly young city-state not even a hundred years old, different from the Holy See, I realize. The image of Pope John Paul declaring from the balcony overlooking St.Peter's square - 'Yesu piranthar' in Tamil one Christmas was one of the earliest scenes I retained from the Doordarshan days.

I stood for some time taking in the scene. The massive square is a physical representation of the grand history. The obelisk and the rows of statues looking down at us from all sides, the large columns and pillars -it was designed by Bernini after all! The marble pillars reminded me of my hometown and the palace with its large pillars.

We spent a lot of time in the square then slowly walked into the basilica. Though the current Basilica is probably only about five centuries old, this site is said to have housed a church fr at least fifteen centuries. I wondered if I could recall any other site I have visited as old as that. Like Dickens I figured I'd not forget the sensation of looking up at the dome after walking in. Michaelangelo designed this! I rented a audio guide and we spent the next few hours wandering about looking at various paintings, sculptures etc., learning about church design and the variations on this particular one and even how long it takes waiting if one wanted to get married here.

It is not so much a Da Vinci code reference check but Angels and Demons reference check. There are scenes where the Vatican is described in great detail. We took a few pictures of the elite swiss guards - Da Vinci designed their uniforms I read somewhere and made our way up to get a nice view of the city. In the coffee shop, SR asked for espresso and the vendor asked him if he really wanted the Italian espresso or Americano. He went on to explain that Italian espresso is real coffee and Americano is coffee with lot of water. SR an avid coffee drinker laughed and confirmed he wanted the shot. It was amusing to hear the American references - a woman standing queue in one of the shops rambled on in Italian when I said "excuse me" in English about how they did not want Americans and in Italy we should speak in Italian. Granted I ought to have tried to say scusi.. but I certainly didn't expect a caustic lecture. More than that it was further strange a brown eyed, brown skinned, dark haired set of tourists were being mistaken for Americans.

After a long time in Vatican quite drained and tired we slowly ambled out. Deciding to go back in time, our next stop was the Colosseum.

Visiting Rome is a feeling I will never forget in my life.. it was one of those things where you walk a few steps and you are standing in a place steeped in history. I simply stood there my mouth agape gazing at the fantastic structure. Here I was answering my own question, standing at a spot even more antiquated than the Basilica. In a moment of unaided hallucination I could hear the roar of the crowds and the lions and the shouts of the gladiators filling the air.

Scenes from Imperium and to some extent from Pompeii from the Robert Harris novels and the swashbuckling Simon Scarrow novels came to me as we slowly walked up and down what would have been the spectators seating and standing areas in the ancient times. Despite the pictures I had not expected to see it so well preserved nor had I expected this level of sophistication in the design. I could now see that the whole underground system of pathways for the animals and the slaves to popup was indeed true.

I walked about gazing at the grass covered stone structure, the empty stands, the blue sky my heart full. It was a strange feeling to stare past the iron bars in the underground area into the cells. I wondered if Spartacus stood on the very spot long ago.

After some time we ventured out to be greeted by a man dressed in old roman costume. We took the mandatory pictures and wandered towards the Arch of Constantine. I studied the inscriptions and the decorations and pondered about the arch as the ancient roman choice of architecture in comparison to the pillar as the ancient Indian choice of Ashoka some centuries before.

We walked about the Forum gazing at the ruins of the once majestic city - the temple of saturn the temple of castor and pollux, the arches - still breathtaking, defying time, mocking my own mortality.

When I crept to my bed that evening after the long day, i felt overwhelmed like a tired kid after a few hours at the fair and promptly went to sleep

May 26, 2009