There was no mucking around. We were going to the Forum and Palatine Hill come hell or high water. Surely strikes and chaffed thighs were things of the past, we could go forward and see some sights.
But it was also Saturday and the market in Campo dei Fiori does not run on Sunday. Paris, being particularly visionary, decided that we had to visit the market early so we could buy a whole lot of interesting vegetables for a Sunday feast. Who can disagree with that? Now that he has read a series of Bronte novels without being promoted and has argued to buy vegetables for fun, I feel that my work here is done ..
So we did. Artichokes, eggplants, mushrooms, capiscums, potatoes, and then some fruit. We carted it home.
And then we set off for the Forum for the third time. This time we went behind the great monument to Vittorio Emmanuel and the unification of Italy and then we got lost and had to back track. But we could see people wandering around the forum, so that boded well. And the faux gladiators were out in force as were the scarf sellers and the sellers of mini Colosseums and so on. Things were looking good.
The line for the Colosseum was huge; this looked bad. Perhaps everyone caught in the general strike yesterday were going for broke today. I wasn't keen on a long wait in line, but we had to do this thing.
As it happened, our luck held. There was hardly anyone in line for the Forum. And we already had our tickets so we didn't have to wait to buy. At least we had tickets. Whether they would still be valid was a whole other ball game. I went straight up to the bloke who was guarding the door and in my best Italian, explained the situation - we had bought the tickets but were caught in the general strike of yesterday. He looked at my tickets and my winning smile. The doors opened for us. We were finally in.
It wasn't quite the sunny days were have become used to, but it was warm and humid and Niccolo was soon down to a tee shirt. Not me, so much. But the warm blood of youth ...
So there we were, picking over the carcass of that beast that was the Roman Empire. This has a very different feel to Pompeii, which was a city cut down in its prime, and was like a perfect body resting on its side. The forum and Palatine Hill were pockets of decay and ruin (in its true sense). As I had been bold about approaching the door guard, we didn't get a audioguide or a map so we had to rely on what was written on boards around the place. Lots was about Nero - his megolomania, and how much of what he built was later torn down in a rage by the people. The kids, funnily enough, knew quite a lot about Emperor Nero from Horrible Histories (God love that show) and could tell us what he had done and how bad he really was. They were actually more a fan of some other emperor whose name I can neither remember (or, indeed, spell) who was seriously deranged. Rome; the playground for madness. No wonder Hilter was so attracted to the symbols and architecture. Must had felt right up his alley.
Palatine Hill was the place where the wealthy citizens of Rome built their houses and surveyed the plebians. There were the remains of quite a few mansions, including the house of Augustus which is remarkably intact, and you can visit, as though you have been asked for tea. It is reassuringly similar to the houses we build and live in today (I'm not sure why that this reassuring ...); quite small rooms (perhaps so you could heat them), beautifully painted with frescos (now that is something we should bring back to our housing), window seats, doors.
I had a good look at the children. Zelda was a pale as death. Had she had breakfast? No, she had not. Her mood was dropping like a stone. We had to find an early lunch. Myles took me aside to discuss possibilities. He doesn't like to discuss in front of the kids in case it accidently locks him into something he was not prepared to entertain. As we walked away from them, I told them, in mock tones, that we were abandoning them. Paris said: 'Cool'. Niccolo said: 'Leave us some money'. Zelda said nothing.
We decided on a place to eat; somewhere we had passed in our trips around the city; and then we took the kids around the rest of the site. Up to the gardens that hung above the city (very nice, but NOT, I feel, 2000 years old), and then into the commercial quarter and the forum itself. It was all very like a village - cobbled streets with shops on either side, temples and churches, housing. Lots of marble fragments lying about. I wish we had an audioguide or something. The kids were full of history, they couldn't take in another thing so perhaps I was the only one yearning for more information.
The place was the pulse of one of the biggest empires our world has ever seen. It was fitting that there were still mighty structures that spoke a testimony to that, but they were also dwarfed by what had arisen since. And was the ground lower 2000 years ago? Everything seems to sit lower on the earth than where we currently live.
There is a haunting here too; your feet hit the ground in the places where thousands of others had hit the ground; same needs and desires (though we are not here to live, but to be voyeurs so that is a bit different). Same stumbling on steep steps, same rolling of ankles on uneven stones. We are a part of something just by being human; it is a haunted site, but not lonely.
So to feed the kids. Once Zelda was eating lasagne, the colour came back into her face and she could smile and speak again. Paris had pork and vegetables. Niccolo, a hamburger. Myles and I went for the melazane alla parmigana. It was ace. This is going to become a dish for my kitchen too.
The sun had come out. We went to Piazza Navona for more ice cream and to look again at the Bernini fountain of the four rivers. We tried to guess what they were - turns out we couldn't have been more wrong in our judgement. We liked the lion at the bottom of the fountain very much. Then Niccolo chased gigantic bubbles that were being produced by a woman at the other end of the piazza. I had a run in with her 'minder' who told me I had to give her money before I could take photos. I hotly pointed out that the child I was taking photos of had just put a hunk of change in her hat and perhaps he should back off. Grrrrr.
Campo dei Fiori was practically pulsating with life when we returned. It was middle afternoon; around four, and people were already getting on their dancing shoes. Myles and I bought English magazines (and tickets for the bus so we could get the airport early on Monday morning) and we returned to our apartment. I got in the bath with my magazine. The kids watched Total Drama on the computer. Myles watched The Karate Kid (not making that bit up).
We had discovered that there was a concert on at the Church of St Ignatius that night. It was a choir from Tampa Florida (conducted by an Irishman named Donal Noonan) singing sacred music. Well, it was free and we though, why not? The kids were not enthusiastic. Niccolo discovered a film called Sky High on the TV in English and he wasn't going anywhere. So Myles and I put on respectable clothes and went off to church. We had not yet gone into the Church of Saint Ignatius, but had walked through the piazza several times; it has become one of my favourites. The church is amazing, incredibly painting on the ceilings with that remarkable feeling you get in the Sistine Chapel too, that the painting are somehow three dimensional. The usual saints in the wall thing. There were quite a few of us there to see the singing. Interesting.
It was a mix between the sublime (some Mozart which was beautiful) and the nuts (some more charismatic, hand clapping, 'let Jesus come' stuff). And directing the whole thing was perhaps one of the more eccentric conductors the world has ever seen. He was a huge bald Irishman (who was quite clearly loved by his singers) who conducted as if the music was coming from his body - up on his toes, shoulders rippling, hands everywhere, knees flexing. It was entertaining. He also had a set of 'Danny Boy' pipes and, on occasion, handed his stick to another to have a sing (a kind of Captain/Coach). The woman who he gave his stick to conducted as if she were kneading bread or sewing a large garment; the bloke held the stick delicately and pointed.
The choir itself was made up of older people and very young people. There was a girl who sang up the back (though she did a solo too at one point) who couldn't have been much out of her teens, who was having the best time, but couldn't get in time for the more charismatic stuff - swaying the wrong way, hand clapping at the wrong time. I couldn't keep my eyes off her.
All in all, the American singers, the Irish conductor, the Italian aesthetic, and the rather rag tag crowd; this was perfect.
After it was over, we walked the streets of Rome (hark! are those bells? look! is that the Pantheon? and so on) and went into a bar for drink (with the youngest crowd I have ever seen). We had a long chat about religion.
Campo dei Fiori was fierce in its crowds of people looking to party. It was going to be a long, noisy night for us in our tower. Turned out it was. Men yelling and singing, fights, and the mysterious new born cry which I now think might be a cat. The poultry was silent (or drowned out). They prefer the morning anyway.