Here’s an audio version of this post
We had a perfect tourist afternoon. Knowing our energy was unreliable after an overnight flight, we didn’t commit to much, just left our B&B and started walking. We spontaneously took a flight of steps leading up to we didn’t know what, in order to get away from traffic. We found ourselves in an urban park full of large old trees, recumbent locals lounging around on the grass, and random seeming ancient ruins that weren’t entirely roped off from people like us who wanted to touch them. With the help of GPS and google, we determined that we were at the site of the Baths of Trajan, and at least some of the foundations we explored were nearly 2000 years old.
Because we were able to get up close to some of it, our sighted companion was able to show us the different ways stone and clay had been used in building construction. We shied away from some formal tour action that was going on, so didn’t get the full lowdown, but being up close and personal with the stone work was more fun than tour guide chat from behind ropes.
Our way led naturally down toward the Colosseum. I’ve been reading some about its tortured past, and approached it with sinister curiosity. I hadn’t understood before that it’s a structure built from the bottom up. I had assumed that it was dug out, but not so. I understand that at its height it could hold 50,000 closely packed spectators, and spectators of such horrors! I’ve been reading about some of it, and tomorrow we’re going to try for the guided tour, where I think you get to go down to the fighting floor, and maybe to some of the chambers beneath.
Our friend gave a good description of the remaining structure, then we lucked out and found a gift shop selling scale models. The models show the structure as it is today, not as it appeared intact, and interesting choice. I’d like to have seen the original too. Someone turned us on to this strategy (for blind tourists) of finding gift shops in historical places and asking to see the models. Now I’ve got a list as long as my arm of gift shops around the world I want to visit, but not buy anything. This one also had some soldier and gladiator helmets one could buy for 75 Euros. Handling these really helped to bring home the barbarism of it all.
In wandering around the perimeter, we happened on a church, Chiesa Di Santa Francesca Romana. Music is my passion, and in thinking ahead to our time here, I’d done a lot of digging trying to find free musical performances in Rome, especially choral music, like a choir practice in a church with good acoustics. I’d been unable to find anything that fit our schedule, and tried to resign myself to let go of planning, and just go and see what happened. And what happened was that as we wandered into the church, a choir practice was going on. I beamed, and coaxed my companions to stay and listen. It was 16 women being led by a conductor with a powerful singing voice. I only recognized one of the pieces, which was beautiful, but choral music in a church is choral music in a church, and finding it like that was magic. I wondered if it was all actually sacred music; there were quite a lot of odd dissonances and off harmonies whose sacred function seemed only relevant to an exorcism, but what do I know?
Apart from the ruins and the tourists, there was still no doubt that we’re in Rome from the moment we got off the airplane. Customs consisted of handing our passports to a group of employees who were engaged in an energetic conversation amongst themselves, having these officials verify by a one second glance that they were indeed passports, then getting waved on toward the taxies.
Likewise, navigating the street traffic will rapidly assure you you’re not in Toronto anymore. There are traffic lights, but they seem to function as vague suggestions. Traffic flow appears to be largely self-regulating, run off the nerve and seeming nonchalance of drivers and pedestrians alike. As our group of four crossed busy streets, cars merely swerved neatly around us so close you could feel the breeze. I’m quite unnerved by it, and am grateful not to have to try any of these perilous crossings without sighted help. Such is the force of Rome generally and its traffic in particular, that our Jewish friend has adopted the habit of murmuring a quick “Hale Mary,” before each street crossing.