All of the German girls looked up and froze. I was just as shocked as they were and actually checked the room number. Then the oddest and stupidest quote struck me at that moment. When in Rome I thought, and I entered.
The girls were nice, but I did notice a few of them looked a little afraid. I attempted to be as non-threatening as possible with hello’s and smiles as I found my bunk. My bunk was the top one, above their leader I found out which in and of itself was strange for someone my size.
The girls asked me where I was from and this was to be a revelation concerning my being American. I learned that I was not American, which is to say I am not a typical American. I am from another elusive place that is far greater than America. By my accent they assumed that I was American, but when I told them I was from Los Angeles their entire demeanor changed.
Sixteen year old girls in any country can be loud, giggly and very excited, now they needed hugs and wanted to take pictures with me. The girls squeezed me and snapped pictures as if Snoop Dog was my neighbor. This happened more than once during my time in Rome. Los Angeles to some Europeans is a mystical place like Shangri-la. It is a place people have heard about and want to visit someday. It is where actors and musicians walk down the street and film television shows. They might live in the land of monuments to the ancient Gods, but I lived in the land of the rock stars and movie gods and apparently that negated everything.
I realized it’s a moderately cheap flight to get to Europe from New York, but getting to and from Los Angeles is nearly triple the price as anywhere else. So many people had met people from New York and other places in the United States, but not Los Angeles. No matter who they were, when I said I was from Los Angeles they were enthused and excited and had questions for me.
I am usually a night owl, but it was midnight and I was exhausted. I woke at dawn. So early that the light hadn’t even broke yet. I used the restroom last night, but didn’t think about what the morning might bring.
The restroom was a co-ed community restroom with stalls for toilets and showers and a long row of sinks against an enormous mirror. After my shower I was just shocked at the number of girls in the restroom and just like last night most were only in bra and panties. When in Rome may have come into my head last night, but I as an American and idea of consequences and judgement. I was out of there.
Day one opened with a journey through the streets of Rome and espresso. Oh the espresso, I will come back to that. People were all headed off too work while I sought out the Colosseum in typical male fashion. My name is Gladiator and I will have my revenge.
Once I had the general direction I started walking, taking in the city and refusing to look at the map until I felt truly lost. I figured it was so big that I couldn’t miss it. After climbing a four story set of steps that looked like a street, and wandering down various streets that lead into a long alley where I didn’t want to turn around for fear that I looked like the lost tourist I actually was, I opened the map. I was close and I could see it through the trees.
The Colosseum is awe-inspiring. I took a picture and just stood for a moment taking it in before I approached. Outside there were venders serving a wide assortment of morning breads. I got what I realized later was a giant donut. It tasted fantastic and the bread melted in my mouth.
I bought a Rome pass for eighteen-euro, which gave me three days of museum discounts and free metro. I wasn’t certain about the metro at this point, but by day two, entering twenty hours of walking, it would become my best friend.
Inside the Colosseum, I thought about how much blood was shed in such a magnificent place. There is one section that still has the original marble seating in it. Below the main level, two stories deep is the pit where they set everything up with all sorts of cages and elevators.
I didn’t take any tours, but I would walk up behind and listen in whenever I saw an opportunity. The Colosseum sat around fifty thousand people and it was designed in such a way that it could be emptied in just a few minutes if necessary. There is a story that one time a group of lions was bought in for the next event, probably to consume Christians. The combined roar of the lions was so loud that silenced the entire stadium. I learned that the cheep seats were a bit different than they are today. The closer one sat to the action, the greater the chances of becoming part of the action (that is being stabbed or eaten in a particular event) hence the front rows were the cheapest.
I stared into the center of the stadium and checked on one of the moss-covered stones in the depths of the middle. It was a sizeable block and I couldn’t help wondering who or what group of men set it there. Did they even remotely imagine that someone would be staring at it thousands of years after they had passed beyond memory into dust. My first thought is joined by a second that immediately said yes, because they believed that they were building monuments to the gods and the things they built were designed to last forever, which could be why it seems that such care and precision was taken into creating Rome.
My goals for this trip were simple. I wanted to experience Rome, its people and places and I had two things I had to see without exception. The School of Athens a fresco painting by Raphael and a sculpture titled Dying Gaul. I knew the Gaul was at the Capitoline Museum., a fact I had committed to memory over ten years ago. I located it on the map set off from the Colosseum. I passed down the streets of ancient Rome to find it.
The ruins and rubble had stood for a lifetime and were the main city center of life and times in antiquity. I found that there is far too much to see in the ancient city than I was willing to do this trip and it is one of the places I must return to.
The Capitoline Museum is not one of the more popular tourist spots, so thankfully I had entire rooms to myself. I moved all the way through the museum quickly until I found him. Dying Gaul. An art history teacher told me the story of the sculpture that made me take such an interest.
There was an art school somewhere near Athens that was attacked by the Gaul’s. Everyone at the colony was killed. The event was so significant that for decades after people still paid tribute to the event in sculpture and painting. Dying Gaul is significant because the artist chose to represent one of the attackers and though the position of the body is an exact replica of an Egyptian piece called Dying Soldier, the passion and expression on the Gaul’s face is so deep and painful.
He is wounded and full of frustration at not being able to continue on his mission. He can no longer rise and continue his mission. I sat with him for a while. I took pictures in the hope of understanding more of him and his creator. In the end I was at a loss and had to move on. I figured the effect would hit me at a later date.
for thousands of years,
slowly slipping into death.
Naked, bleeding from a wound
too spent to continue,
he holds himself propped
on his right hand
weeping life from his ribs.
Whip and sword grounded beside him,
he waits for the inevitable,
has waited all this time for me
and thousand years from now
he will be dying still.
Published by James Gabriel