Communion Of Dreams


Italy, 2012: An unexpected introduction.

“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe.”

That may seem to be an odd choice to kick off a series of travelogs about my recent trip to Italy. The focus of the trip, after all, was on Classical Antiquity – specifically, “The Italy of Caesar and Vergil.” So what does a fictional character from 2019 have to do with it?

Well, me, not to put too fine a point on it.

Context is everything. While I had always kinda-sorta wanted to see Italy, it wasn’t a high priority for me. Other trips always took precedent. I figured I’d get around to seeing Italy sometime, or if I didn’t, it wouldn’t be a big deal. After all, while I knew the general history of that part of Europe, and even more than the average amount about Rome (and the Romans), neither was of particular interest. It didn’t play a part in my fiction. It wasn’t pertinent to my life. So I thought.

I was wrong. Hopefully, these travelogs will convey how.

* * * * * * *

An old and dear friend is an expert on Classical Antiquity. His name’s Steve Tuck. Associate Professor of Classics. Published author. DVD star. He’s one of those guys that gets called up when NPR needs a sound bite/expert on something in his field.

And for years he’s told me about the various classes and tour groups he’s taken to Italy. They always sounded like fun, if somewhat outside my own scope.

Well, just a couple of weeks before he was supposed to take another group over this summer, he dropped me a note. There was an unexpected opening in his tour – was I interested in filling in?

Sure. What the hell. It’d be a chance for me to get a out of my routine. Push the boundaries of my comfort zone a bit. Spend time with a good friend who I don’t see often enough. And maybe even learn something.

The tour was actually designed as a workshop for High School Latin teachers, and would help them be prepared for changes to the A.P. criteria going into effect. Part of most days the group would be in class, going over the scholarly material. And the site visits would all be tied to said material. While the rest of the group was in class, I’d have time to explore on my own, do some writing (note-taking), play tourist. When we went to sites, I’d get the same expert guide instruction as everyone else.

So, it was 24 Latin teachers, me and two other non-teachers (one the spouse of a teacher, one the mother of one), my friend and his Co-Director for the trip, a woman who is herself a Latin teacher but who also has extensive knowledge of the area/material and conducted the classroom sessions. 29 of us. Good number. Prime number.

* * * * * * *

Getting to Rome was pretty much routine international travel. Which is to say mildly annoying and took too long. I can’t wait until the TSA allows the use of transporter technology. (You did know that we actually have transporter technology, right? Yeah. They’re just trying to figure out how they can still get to hassle us about the size of our water bottles before they let us use it.)

I arrived in Rome early on July 11th. Going through Passport Control and Customs amounted to little more than blithely showing my passport to the bored agent who glanced at it an waived me on. Seriously, I stepped past the checkpoint and looked around for the Customs station. There was none. Or rather, there was off to the side, but the guys there were too busy talking and literally didn’t even look up at me when I paused to consider if I needed to take my luggage to them. Hell, everyone else was just walking past me and into the main concourse, so I figured I should as well.

It was about 9:00 AM. It was hot & humid in the airport. The first two ATMs I passed weren’t working. People seemed to be less harried than you usually find. Certainly, the uniformed staff were. But whenever I stopped and asked a question, they were happy to help, and pointed me on my way.

This, I found, pretty much summed up Italy.

Except Naples. I’ll get to that later.

* * * * * * *

The express train from the airport to the main station in Rome proper took about a half hour. It cost $14 (actually, 11 Euros, but I’m just going to use $ equivalents since I have a $ key on my keyboard and it will avoid confusion). The seats were comfortable, half the train was empty, and again there was no Air Conditioning.

Air Conditioning isn’t a big thing in Italy. This was something of a theme for the whole trip.

The train station was big. Hectic. Every variety of human, and most of our various languages being spoken. But the signage out to the bus stands was pretty clear, so I made my way through the crowds and went outside.

No buses. Taxis. But no buses.

There were supposed to be buses. I went back inside, looked at the signage. Yup. There were supposed to be buses. There was construction beyond the taxis, but no buses.

The only train station employees were all in windows with long lines of people waiting to talk to them. I decided that I could solve this problem on my own.

I went out the side of the station. Still no buses. But there across the street I saw an ATM (called a bancomat in Italy) in the side of a building. I walked over to it. It wasn’t working. There was another one further down, which was.

I decided that I’d just keep going, do a circle around the train station. The construction in the front of the building was still there. But on the other side of it, well-hidden from the station entrance, I found buses. Yay!

* * * * * * *

My friend Steve responded to my text message letting him know I was in town. Said he’d meet me at the bus stop. He did.

It was a fairly short walk over to our hotel, right in the heart of downtown. Steve showed me our room – in the “annex.” Up about 47 flights of steps. All lovely marble, mind. But still.

But still, it was charming. About halfway up we came out on a little outdoor landing where more permanent residents had their little rooftop gardens.

hotel landing

Rooftop gardens are very big in Rome.

* * * * * * *

After dropping off my bag, getting a little cleaned up from having been traveling the better part of a day, we went out. We met Steve’s co-director, Amy Leonard, and had a little lunch before stomping off across the city. Steve and Amy still had to do some checking on things before starting the tour stuff the next day.

You might think that most of this stuff could be done in advance. That information about museum opening times and whatnot would all be available online. And it is available online. You just can’t trust it.

This was one of the key things I learned about Italy: the randomness of how things work. You can take nothing for granted. Places which are supposed to be open certain hours seldom actually are. Shows/galleries which are supposed to be in place frequently aren’t. Things which are supposed to be available “just ran out.” Things that are supposed to work, don’t. You get more-or-less used to this pretty quickly, and learn to be relaxed about it, staying flexible about anything and everything.

So Steve and Amy had to do a lot of checking stuff to see what was actually there, what would actually work. And I tagged along for the walk.

* * * * * * *

Yeah, walk. The things we needed to see were all within walking distance. Well, walking distance if you’re used to walking a lot. I thought I was. I walk about 1.5 miles every morning. Briskly. Up and down hills. So when Steve and Amy said that things were within walking distance, I just grinned and said “sure.”

I’m an idiot.

Well, no, not for saying that I’d be able/willing to walk that much. For making a last-minute decision to wear some decent but lightweight Nike walking shoes on the trip, rather than the heftier hiking boots I usually walk in.

See, downtown Rome is paved with cobblestones. Oh, not all of it – there are some main roads which are concrete and whatnot. But the vast majority of places where you walk is cobblestones. My feet were aching and bruised before we were halfway done.

* * * * * * *

Well, what did I see?

This:

Roman Forum

And a lot more like it.

* * * * * * *

When they were mostly done checking to make sure that their plans would work, we paused. All along the way Steve (mostly – occasionally Amy would chime in) would point out this or that notable structure. He didn’t go into detail with me, as all of this stuff was on the agenda for a complete explanation with the entire group, and there was no need to thrash over it all now.

But we paused on the east edge of the archeological site of the Forum. There was a raised platform about ten meters square.

“That’s where the original Colossus was” said Steve. I think he added something about it having been replaced by Nero with a statue of himself, which was subsequently torn down.

In the background was the Colosseum.

I looked around. Between all the walking, the jet-lag, and the quick intro into Rome, I was stunned. I looked back at Steve. At Amy. “I don’t know if you guys can still appreciate this, since you’re used to it, but this . . . this is . . . incredible. Just the scale of it. I mean, I have seen all of these things in images and documentaries all my life. But in person . . . they’re just overwhelming. You don’t really get a sense of how big, how grand, these things are.”

* * * * * * *

On the way back from the reconnoiter we stopped at Mad Jack’s Irish Pub for a beer.

I was still stunned. Still reeling from the size of the structures. From the scale of everything. From the deep history of the place.

I was used to seeing castles in northern Europe. Stuff six or seven hundred years old.

Where I had breakfast for the next three days was in the basement of the hotel. Or, more accurately, in part of the entry way to the Pompei Theatre, which was over 2,000 years old.

Sorta puts things in perspective, doesn’t it?

Jim Downey

 

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[...] seen things you people wouldn’t believe.” That may seem to be an odd choice to kicsource This entry was posted in europe by poster. Bookmark the [...]

Pingback by Italy, 2012: An unexpected introduction. | Home Far Away From Home

When I went to the Colosseum, there was a stuffed lion in the entryway. The tour guide made a big joke of it. Then he realized he was speaking to a tour group made up entirely of nuns and girls from a Catholic high school!

Comment by Annie

[...] mentioned in the first of these travelogues that Italy had a somewhat casual attitude about many things, and that you just [...]

Pingback by Italy, 2012: Nasty Naples. « Communion Of Dreams

[...] indeed, “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe.”  I almost don’t believe it, [...]

Pingback by Italy, 2012: Rome Alone. « Communion Of Dreams




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