16 April, 2012

Rome: In Which There Are Many Ruins and No Gregory Pecks

What was I expecting?  Once upon a time I hoped to relive Audrey's Roman Holiday (well, until the part where she has to choose her stifling job over Gregory Peck.  GRE-GO-RY-PECK!), but I've experienced enough of Europe to unlearn my assumption that it's 24/7 romance.  More recently my expectations were of something closer to the way New York City feels to me: dirty, extremely crowded, one big money-sucking amusement park of over-rated landmarks that everyone photographs and then forgets.

(Don't worry, I'm not usually that cynical.)

The Colosseum, not a costumed interpreter in sight
Rome was neither of those polarities, instead somewhere safely and contentedly in the middle.  Yes, there were souvenir shops galore and a few costumed "gladiators" trolling for tips, but I was amazed by how un-kitschy the city is despite being so full of sites that could be capitalized on!  It really felt as though the Italians wouldn't even notice that these things are here if the rest of the world didn't show up in a continuous stream to remind them of it.  In the US when we discover historic ruins, we excavate them and then build a replica so that we can see, touch, and move through our past.  We often throw in a few costumed re-enactors to "interpret" it, for good measure.  We like "living history" in the good US of A; restoring what was, rather than simply conserving/preserving what's left in the condition in which it was left.

Rome, however...Aside from some supportive additions to simply keep the structures standing, nothing has been added, no attempts have been made at any of these sites to reconstruct/recreate the past before our eyes.  There are no costumed senators and servant girls, there is often hardly even any signage to explain or distinguish what you're looking at.  It's almost as if the Italians can't be bothered; their city is just going to be speckled with random ancient ruins, you'll have to use your imagination, and they'll get on with their day.

The Arch of Constantine
I found myself wishing that I could approach some of these landmarks -- the Colosseum, the Arch of Constantine, Trajan's Column -- with the eyes of an ancient Roman.  We have lost our sense of wonder.  I look at these structures and can't help thinking, "There are apartment buildings taller than that."  If only I could come without my contextual comparisons to fully grasp the staggering, dwarfing accomplishments they were in their time.

 


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