Sunday, July 13, 2014

Travelogue 3: I Dreamed of Rome (June 19 - 23)

In the early afternoon of June 19th, I landed in Rome. No matter how much I prepare, traveling to a new destination always upends my sense of routine. With just a short plain ride, my everyday life dissolves and I find myself happily disoriented in an open town square staring at a 2,000-year-old Egyptian obelisk. At every turn I find the small differences from my other existence. Tremendous doors everywhere, churches constructed centuries ago, narrow pathways that open up to glorious piazzas. It's a dizzy teleportation trick.

Piazza del Popolo
Egyptian Obelisk at the Piazza del Popolo, Rome
There's nothing like getting lost in one of Rome's constricted walkways and streets. You snake your way around narrow streets lined with shops, going God knows where, only to be rewarded by the open sight of a tremendous piazza.  It's a sweet startle to suddenly find Piazza Navona greeting you with Bernini's fountain. My favorite experience has always been the Pantheon: life teeming all about in random patterns, people meandering in their own unworried direction, licking gelato, pointing, taking pictures, holding hands.
Pantheon, Rome
Pantheon, Rome

Rome is veined with small streets and alleyways. Follow the map loosely, but better to stumble into her secrets. Down one cobblestone street I found a bunch of quaint little storefront cafes and gelatterie; another turn I found a faceless church that just so happened to shelter three gobsmacking murals by Caravaggio. I passed Hadrian's Temple twice before I realized what it was. It remained hidden in open view, and it humbled me.

The Via Del Corso is a straight shot from Piazza del Popolo to Piazza Venezia. I walked that distance and even further to the Baths of Caracalla (it was madness walking that distance; the immensity of those baths, an altogether different kind of madness). Along the way: ancient ruins, abandoned antiquities naked to the elements, the restored villa of Augustus, the remains of a weather worn column or a temple.
Augustus' Villa, Interior
Augustus' Villa, Interior
The map instructed me to turn right. "It can't be here", I thought, "of all placesright next to The Gap?"  It was eroded and overgrown with impossibly tall weeds, its perimeter girded with high aluminum gates. But there it was: the Tomb of Augustus. It was one of the few places I really wanted to enter and explore despite its shambled state, but instead I had to appreciate the stinging irony that the final resting place for one of the most famous Roman emperors was baking under an ageless sun, with a clothing retailer as its neighbor.

All the ruins strewn among the modernity, Rome better than any place on earth can tell you permanence has a price, but better that than gone forever.

Either way, I still think I dreamed it.

Temple of Saturn
Temple of Saturn