I drove 4,974 miles across America, 1,392 kilometers around Italy, pedaled my bicycle 384 miles across Iowa, 391 miles across Nevada and paddled 85 miles on the Willamette River in Oregon – and never wrote a word about any of it.
The time of darkness has arrived in the Pacific Northwest and I’m trying to make time to reminisce about the Madcap Schemes of 2017. Let’s start with Italy:
Actually, let’s start at the Heathrow Airport in London with me bitching about what I hate about flying these days. Yeah, I want to be safe, but I feel captive to sixth-century fanatics who think blowing up people advances their fantasy/religion somehow.
So at Heathrow we had to go through the whole security humiliation again and the bloke at the X-ray machine scolded me for not having my “lick-quids” properly sorted.
“Anything you can drink, any lick-quid, goes into a plastic bag by itself,” he emphasized. So my lick-quid soap, which I would never drink, got a plastic-bag home of its own away from its deodorant, razor and toothpaste friends.
And then it was on to Rome.
Tuesday, June 27, 2017: No one slept past 5:30 a.m. as jet lag had its grip on all of us. So we got an early start on getting Roman passes (worth it) and heading to the Foro Romanum, where we spent four hours in the hot sun and 90-degree temperatures. But well worth it.
What remains of Imperial Rome serves as a reminder of how short-lived our American experience is – 200 plus years seems pretty paltry next to the 1,000 years Rome put up as the most influential people in their part of the world, which eventually spread from northern Europe into Africa, from the British Isles into Asia. They made it roughly 500 years as a republic and then came Julius Caesar, military dictatorships, Christianity and the coming apart of Roman dominance. I could not help but wonder if our current administration will mark such a turning point.
I did not carry my cell phone and its constant barrage of news flashes, message, etc. I read the Telegraph that I bought in London, mostly for the rugby news, and Trump was not mentioned once – what a delight. The trip made obvious the obsession I have with following the course of this administration and how opposed I am to all it is trying to do – and to the disruption that is causing in my being, in my mental and emotional “life course.”
Taking a Trump dump, expelling what had been binding up my mental and political digestive system, was a great relief, although I did take note of a few things: Europeans seeing the GOP health plan as failure of Americans to take care of their own. Then there was Johnny Depp’s comments on assassinating the president. That made me sad, or just SAD!, as the illiterate would tweet. Once someone is given the spark of life and has cleared the womb, I figure no one has the right to snuff it out. Natural forces seem to do just fine in that regard without our help.
After the Forum, it was time for lunch and naps. We were back at it late in the afternoon, heading to the Coliseum. The section of the audio tour (recommended) on the games held at the Coliseum gives an amazing account of carnage as spectator sport. At the opening of the Coliseum (80 A.D.), 5,000 animals were killed in hunts and fights. At one time, Emperor Trajan had 10,000 gladiators fighting and 11,000 beasts hunted, fought and certainly killed. Games started in the morning, lunch included executions as a warm-up to the fight-to-the-death gladiatorial matches later in the day. Gladiators could be slaves, who might win their freedom, or Roman citizens hoping for fame, fortune and possible advancement in society. Gladiators fought twice a year, according to the recording. Military deserters were snacks for wild beasts, and prisoners were normal fare for both animals and gladiators (not implying cannibalism here).
The audio guide said that at one time, the Romans had 170 holidays a year with “games” in the Coliseum on many of them. That might have been the inspiration for author Robert Harris to have Cicero, frustrated at how many days the court would not be in session to hear a case he was presenting, say, “For pity’s sake, does nobody in this wretched town do anything except watch men and animals kill one another?” Highly recommend Harris’ historical fiction, the Cicero trilogy.
It all raised the question of how Western society went from being so open about its real life violence to the voyeuristic violence of today where we have a great appetite for depicted violence in TV, movies etc. but would mostly be appalled (I hope) if, say, Trump reintroduced public executions, which would be a sure sign that our pendulum was swinging in the same direction as ancient Rome’s.
In the evening, we walked past the Circus Maximus, where chariot races were held (think “Ben Hur” where Charlton Heston gets white horses, doesn’t use a whip on them and still wins the day, as we explained to grandson Cole, who had not seen the movie) and on to the Travestre area for gnocchi and bruschetta at an outdoor café. It was a long walk home, but I was happy we found our way without using GPS, relying on good old paper maps and my own perfect sense of direction to get to a point where we turned a corner and there it was, the Hotel Grifo, our hotel, adding only an hour or two to the eight we walked during our first day in Rome.
From now on, Kathy announced, we would take a cab home after 10 o’clock at night.