Roma, day Two

We had breakfast the next morning at a cafe a few doors down from our hostel which we knew was good when we found that none of the people working there spoke English. The cappuccino was the best we had anywhere the whole week long, and we ordered our breakfast by pointing at the croissants in the pastry window. We went their every morning until we left. They were very jolly, invigorated people who laughed with each other, recognized all their customers and winked at you in knowing ways. After that, we headed to the Colosseum, which was only a ten minute walk from the hostel! When we were about to go in, we were offered a tour from a group of English speakers who looked official and had little hip-pack microphones. They seemed authentic, and they were, so we agreed. The Colosseum is very big. :) I have learned some interesting facts about it, such as... oh, what did I learn? oh yes. Only one-third of the original structure is still standing. The rest of it was pillaged by the city of Rome itself over time, and its scattered remains can be seen in countless churches, piazzas, and other sites around the city. The only specific one that I know of is St Peter's Cathedral, the facade of which was built using stones from the Colosseum. The tour guide lady kept using the word pillage, and it was right that she should because the architecture of the place is stunning. And it is a pity that a beautiful thing should be ruined because of a lack of concern or awareness for that beauty. But then she started talking about the number of people who died in a single day of festivities--the number which I don't remember, but which I promise is staggering--in the Colosseum, and I thought, "yes, it is right and good that this place should be torn down and scattered across the city, that a church should reclaim its elements for a better purpose, and that we should see nothing left of it but an empty, bramble-covered shell."

After the Colosseum, our tour guide passed us off to a partner who showed us Palatine Hill and the Forum. These are just behind the Colosseum, and comprise the city space in which emperors and senators mingled their homes (the Hill) with the city bustle (the Forum). Most of the Rome-bits of the film the Gladiator take place somewhere between the Colosseum and the Forum. There are lots of things to see here, like Constantine's Arch and Titus's Arch and pillars from temples now fallen and fountains and stones and the remains of Vestal Virgin statues and... well, that's about it. There is also an exhibit of old marble statues in a building on Palatine Hill that we took some pictures in. This was also a convenient beginning to my love for carved marble which remained for the rest of the journey and will no doubt set me on a life pursuit of marble-sculptors present and active in the world today. I fear that they are few. While wandering through the Forum, Bizarre!, I ran into Rose, a girl from the flat I moved out of at the beginning of the semester. I had no idea she was going to be in Italy, so it was quite a surprise. As Chaeli and I were headed to St Peter's and Rose had just come from there, we did not unite in our tourist efforts. But it was good to run into her nonetheless.

So we took the Metro from the Forum to the Vatican. Lots more shops... crazy Italian drivers... and then the pillars of St Peter's square (which is, incidentally, a circle) that wrap around like arms embracing multitudes--I'm not being dramatic; that is what they're supposed to look like. It is an immense space and the church is absolutely Huge. Hugely huge. Huger than imagination. But it is not so big as to be obnoxious, offensive, or ugly. It maintains a simplicity, somehow, perhaps because of all the space it contains, that allows it still to be beautiful. We walked in, and the Pieta took me completely by surprise. I was just feeling the first moments of awe about the church itself, when Chaeli said 'you might want to spend some time over there' and pointed to the right of the door where Mary and Jesus were lit up and holy. I admit that I cried a bit--it was all quite overwhelming and I didn't realize that the Pieta was going to be there (bad research on my part), and it was quite as beautiful as I expected. The only trouble is that, due to the hammer-bearing madmad in the '70s, the statue is set apart by bullet-proof glass. This does not obscure the view from straight on, but it does limit the view TO straight on. Actually, it is quite elevated, too, so... well, it is beautiful, but distant. We arrived in St Peter's just in time for the five o'clock mass (we always seemed to stumble into churches just in time to disturb the mass), so I gazed at the statue with the sound of a choir in the background. It was all very beautiful.

After this, we had gelato at the Trevi Fountain and counted couples kissing, and I tossed a coin in--an Australian coin that I had found on the street. There was a man there picking coins off of the bottom of the fountain with a magnet. His bum was wet from sitting on the edge. We saw him later eating a big sandwich from a nearby shop, and from the way he was laughing with his friends, it seemed that he had bought the sandwich with the coins.

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