Friday, January 27, 2012

Rome, day four

The ancient ruins beckoned. Why are we so entralled by the ancient? Is it to prove our longevity? Is it to see what we might have been if we had been ancient? Something else? Well, we were caught in the same net, and we were going to see the Colosseum and the Forum and Paletine Hill. Happily, you can bundle the whole thing up in one ticket that lasts two days and you can be ancient to your heart's content.
It is not busy here this time of the year, though not busy still means you queue for a bit (summer must be deadly). We walked from our place to the Colosseum; it is not far, we apparently are not far from anywhere. A lovely bright blue day, but cold. Cold. Cold.
In we went, and bought our tickets and then a couple of hours around the Colosseum. It is surprisingly (or perhaps not so) like what you would see currently in a sporting stadium. Long tiers of seating, good views from everywhere, a large arena (this one is oval), gates leading in and out. The arena itself is only partially covered with wood (this is part of the restoration); the other side exposes the network of tunnels and rooms that lay underneath the arena where animals and slaves were stored ready for the ring.
We got one audio guide and decided that each of us would have a listen and then explain the information to the others. Ah, the joy of an educational exercise this late in the piece ...
There was a whole lot of information about the myths that have arisen around and about the Colosseum - the gladiators died in great numbers (untrue according to the guide; it was way to expensive for the organisers of the games, they had to pay for each gladiator who died and the payment was one hundred times their worth. The people who died in numbers were slaves and prisoners condemned to death. They were just slaughtered for fun either by gladiators or by exotic beasts. As for Christians, there is apparently no evidence that Christians did die at the Colosseum - the narrator did assure us that Christians certainly died at the hands of Roman, but not necessarily here.) Some fun facts about the Colosseum: the exotic beasts suffered most at the Colosseum. As Rome conquered more and more of the known world, they brough back more and more of the spoils and animals were a prized spoil. Apparently, the Romans loved a hunt and they loved to watch a re-enacted hunt in the Colosseum (in the morning; who knew?). During one series of games, 10,000 gladiators killed 11,000 animals including panthers, lions, hippos and so on. There was much cheering. The games were put on by private (and very wealthy) citizens during the Republic and then by the Emperor during the Empire. Romans had something like 170 holidays for games per year. And you wouldn't have to go to the games if you didn't fancy all that blood letting. You could go and cool your face in a fountain. Or lie abed. The things about the Christians sprung up a couple of centuries after the Colosseum closed. It was not used as a fighting arena after the 5th century AD after which is fell apart and was looted for marble and building supplies. But the stories of Christian suffering in the Colosseum (true or false) was the central reason why the Colosseum stands today. In 1750, the then Pope declared the Colosseum a sacred site where maytrs had died and must therefore be preserved. Then the Colosseum was used for passion plays and other Christain rituals until the end of the 19th century when everyone got quite scientific about the site and decided to make it an archeological dig. Hence the tourists in 2012.
There was a lovely black cat enjoying the sunshine in the Colosseum much more than many of the tourists.
This is a creepy place, anywhere where many sentient beings have died for pleasure must be. And it reminded me all too vividly of the MCG where we all like to roar and watch the bloodshed. No one dies (well, almost no one), but how much do we like a thump to the head and so on. It is more the seating and organisation. The tribal yelling from the grandstands while the players sweat bullets. Oh well. That's what the ancient experience will teach you.
And now a true and modern story and perhaps a cautionary tale. Towards the end of this walk around the Colosseum, both Niccolo and I began to feel burning in our thighs. Nothing, clearly, to the suffereing of others in the arena, but rather unpleasant for us. We decided that our new pants (that we had not washed before wearing) were somehow bothering us. Both of us. At the same time. We weren't sure that continuing to walk with this burning was a terrific idea. And because our tickets lasted for two days, we could blow the rest of the walk off.
Niccolo and I hobbled after the rest of the team while they walked to a place for lunch. It was a mock American bar that served burgers and fries to the MTV beat. I had roasted chicken. We watched MTV as if someone was holding a gun to our collective heads. Not sure what is wrong with us. We are giddy with exhaustion and desperate for some control over our environment. But TV is a decent substitute.
Back at home, Niccolo and I took our pants off and our legs were on fire. Neither of us could put new pants on, our legs were so sore. I had a bath (OWWWWW) but afterwards, the inflammation came down a little. We decided we couldn't go out again with no pants so we played cards and bummed around at home. At some point, Paris and Myles went out for dinner.
So the cautionary tale, my friends, is always wash your new pants. It took me 44 years to come up with that one.

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