Pax Romana

Friday afternoon, in my clean, air-conditioned office at the Institut für Rundfunktechnik, I could think of nothing but the number four. As in, 4 p.m., when I dashed down two flights of stairs to a bus, then a train, which took me to Munich International Airport, then to Rome.

This is the first post I’ve written in more than two weeks, which you know if you missed them (you didn’t), and I’m skipping last weekend’s trip to Berlin and the first week of my internship. I’ll try to keep it brief. We’ll see how that goes.

Anyway, our flight landed at Rome’s Fiumicino Airport at 8:30. We didn’t get out of there till 11. Fiumicino is the shitshow of all shitshows. It took two and a half hours for our flight’s luggage to arrive in baggage claim. A smartly dressed, middle-aged Italian man who sat in front of me on the plane shrugged it off:

“It’s Italia. Nothing works here.”

While we waited, I heard a group speaking English behind me, so I turned around to talk to them.

“American?” I asked.

“Yeah!”

“Where are you from?”

“Colorado.”

“No way. Me too. Where in Colorado?

“Fort Collins!”

“What the fuck. I grew up there.”

Connecting with strangers can make a good travel experience a great one, but the odds of meeting people from your hometown, halfway across the world, in the frustrating baggage claim of a shitty airport, are crazy. Then our luggage finally slid to us up the conveyor belt, so we parted ways with this other group and took a taxi to our AirBNB, a cozy second-floor apartment five minutes from the Vatican that came with free Prosecco and, more importantly, air conditioning.

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Not a bad view from the bathroom
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“We who are about to die, salute you”

Our first stop on Saturday was the Colosseum. The line to get in was long, like it is everywhere in Rome; like everywhere in Rome, it was worth it. When I walked through it, I wasn’t in a ruin. I visualized how it must have looked in 79 A.D., and the place came alive. If I ever own a sports team, I’m building our arena as an exact replica.

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The Forum is adjacent to the Colosseum, and just as spectacular. It’s 1,100 years of history sprawled across 6,500 square meters. The first buildings there date to the 700s B.C., when Rome was a kingdom, and the last structures were built in the time in Constantine. It’s where Lucius Junius Brutus overthrew Tarquinius
Superbius, the last king of Rome, and created the republic, and it’s where, centuries later, another Brutus stuck the final knife in Julius Caesar. 

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The Temple of Saturn, from 497 B.C. It reads, “Senatus Populusque Romanus incendio consumptum restituit” — “The Senate and People of Rome have restored what fire consumed”
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The Arch of Constantine, from 315 A.D., celebrating his victory at the Battle of Milvian Bridge and his ascension to the throne
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Trajan’s Forum, from 113 A.D., to honor his conquest of Dacia

After the Forum, we saw the Pantheon, which is a marvel of engineering, and a beautiful temple, but kinda small and underwhelming. It’s crowded and hard to get around, but the plaza outside of it is packed with great restaurants, so I’ll call it a push.

The last stop on Saturday’s historical tour was the Mausoleum of Augustus, where Rome’s first emperor is buried. Augustus, born Octavian, pulled Rome out of a century of civil war and guided it into its greatest era of prosperity — the Pax Romana, the Roman Peace. Today, though, his tomb is a crumbling, looted afterthought, fenced off from the world as if Rome forgot who lies there. Across the street is a marble slab bearing the Res Gestae Divi Augusti, the deeds of the Divine Augustus, and it feels out of place next to this forgotten ruin. I climbed a graffitied concrete barrier to get a picture, then we left, a little disappointed.

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Primus inter pares

That night, we wandered around Trastevere, one of Rome’s nightlife districts. Dinner was square noodles with pesto and mussels at a restaurant whose name I don’t remember, then we heard music in the distance so we headed that way. The closer we got, the funkier it sounded — because it was George Clinton and the Parliament Funkadelic, just playing a free show in the middle of Rome. The dude is 74 years old, but he gets down. It’s probably the best free concert I’ve ever seen.

IMG_2055Sunday we went to the Vatican and stood in line for 45 minutes to get into St. Peter’s Basilica. It was 90 degrees outside, I was wearing long pants and a collared shirt, and there was very little shade, but we talked to a Canadian family in line and it went pretty quickly.

St. Peter’s might be the coolest thing I’ve ever seen. I didn’t know that people could build something so big and so beautiful. As we left, the pope came to the window of his apartment and gave his weekly blessing. From where we stood, I couldn’t hear him, and I couldn’t understand a word that he said, but his voice is so soothing that it didn’t matter.

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Our final stop was the Castel Sant’Angelo, which was originally the mausoleum of the emperor Hadrian, then later converted into a fortress residence for popes. The place is like a maze, because the later papal construction directly contradicts the layout of the ancient structure — hallways cut through each other and circle around on themselves. It’s easy to get lost, but that’s ok in this place. Some sections of floor are still the original mosaic tile from Hadrian’s time; when I realized that, I froze for a second and thought, holy shit, I’m walking in the steps of Roman emperors. 

After the Castel, we went back to our AirBNB, exhausted, sweaty and sore, and crashed to get some sleep before our 7 a.m. flight. I would go back to Rome today. One weekend is far too short a time to spend there. At least now I have incentive to come back (as if I even needed it). In a few hours, I leave for a trip of a totally different variety — Dublin.

Here goes.

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