From the serenity of Siena I ventured to the birthplace of modern Western civilization, the Eternal City of Rome. As the train approached, more and more passengers came aboard. I met Jan, a fellow American, on the ride down. Jan (sweet, solitary), it occurred to me, was a person very deserving of love who would make any man very happy if he would only give her a chance.
We spoke to each other as if castaways, sending messages in bottles. "I think it would be good to be married," said she. "But how to get there from here . . .?" She shook her head, bewildered. I understood. We made tentative plans to tour the Vatican together on the next day. But when we got to Rome we were swept apart by the anarchy of the city, by the teeming hordes of tourists. I hope it all worked out for you, Jan.
I made it with nothing stolen. I arrived at the crowded, bustling hostel, full of young people from all over the world all occupying bunks in big, austere dorm rooms. There I met Wilma from Holland. Wilma (warm, smiling) whom I immediately befriended, took me with her on a walk along the traffic-mad streets of Rome to a hole-in-the-wall pasta place where I dined on the best gnocchi I had ever tasted. There was a football game on the tube, Rome versus someplace, and the crowd at the restaurant was loud and boisterous, until the Rome team lost. Then it was sullen silence. Even our waiter was downcast.
But Wilma was so warm and friendly that drunken, surly Italians made not a mark upon my spirit. We had a great time.
The next day I set off to Vatican City. A model of efficiency in the midst of chaotic Rome. There, I found well-kept streets, well-behaved traffic. Not like Roman boulevards where the lanes were defined by the number of cars that can fit side by side so long as no more than 2 wheels protruded onto the sidewalk.
|Booty ransacked from Egypt|
|Michelangelo hints at the Glory|
|The Final Judgment|
Well, if this work does not redeem us when comes the Judgment Day, brothers and sisters, then we are lost. Michelangelo put our best foot forward. Something is shaken inside when you see it. A profound disquiet descends and the world in which we live seems washed-out and faded.
|Sten, Wilma, yours truly, Kristin, and Jason|
|Site of Roman depravity|
Romans erected it sometime around 70AD. It was capable of seating some 50,000 Romans, an ancient pacifier along the lines of today's television. The Senators and the Emperors knew well how to keep a prosperous and bored populace from becoming restive. Bread and circuses! Bread and circuses! Super Bowls and free 2-topping pizzas from Pizza Hut!
And, if it meant the butchering of slaves, social outcasts, and frightened animals? Well, Roma locuta est, causa finita est.
|Americans clowning around in the ruins of Caligula's Palace|
As the soft Italian night descended, we fell to drinking. There were many people, many travelers and tourists in the cafes. In the bars. We reveled along with them. The night was gentle and warm, like the Mediterranean. In the company of newfound friends, I found that I was quite drunk by the time I climbed into the taxi to return to the hostel. Drunk on beer and friendship and Michelangelo's befuddling genius. And on the epochal experience of, for one brief moment, joining my voice to the song of the Eternal City.
To be continued...
- Pt. I Amsterdam - Arnhem - Copenhagen
- Pt. II Copenhagen - Oslo
- Pt. III Bergen
- Pt. IV Flam fjord - Goteborg
- Pt. V Stockholm - Gavle - Stockholm
- Pt. VI Berlin
- Pt. VII Prague
- Pt. VIII Budapest
- Pt. IX Vienna
- Pt. X Munich
- Pt. XI Salzberg - Innsbruck
- Pt. XII Venice - Florence
- Pt. XIII Siena
- Pt. XIV Rome
- Pt. XV Naples - Pompeii
- Pt. XVI Cinque Terre - Geneva
- Pt. XVII Avignon
- Pt. XVIII Arles
- Pt. XIX Barcelona
- Pt. XX San Sebastian
- Pt. XXI Bordeaux - St. Lo
- Pt. XXII Paris
- Pt. XXIII Brussels - Waterloo
- Pt. XXIV Brugge
- Pt. XXV Amsterdam at last