Rome. The Eternal City.
Eternal? No kidding.
Rome is unlike any place I have ever been before. Within its borders lies the proof of string theory, that all time exists at once, and you can visit any part of that time by simply stepping into that moment along the string. 750 BC (founding by Romulus and Remus), 29 BC (Julius Caesar), 30 AD (life of Christ), 400 AD (fall of Roman Empire), 700 AD (center of the Holy Roman Empire), 1500 AD (Renaissance and Michelangelo), 1917 AD (World War I), 1940 AD (World War II), and the modern chaos of the 21st century– all exist simultaneously and can be accessed by anyone at any time. Though much of the most original construction of the city exists only in the partial remnants of ruined buildings, the Romans keep them beautiful and clean and very much alive with maintenance scaffolding as visible on the Coliseum and the Trevi Fountain as on downtown office buildings. People in great droves walk down the same avenues in the Forum where Roman citizens walked 2000 years ago, and feel the same cobblestones beneath their sneakered feet that were trod by the sandals and boots of their counterparts in what should be long ago, but only seems the day or week before.
And the people…the people of Rome–at least the ones that we saw–lack the ever-present stress of their American counterparts. Yes, their trains are fast, sucking in and spitting out the same urban crowds as New York or Chicago. But the people are missing that desperation that seems to so characterize the rest of us. Their legacy is assured by simply being Romans, each one of them part of that continuous, unbroken existence that is their “Eternal City.”
My husband and I stood in the Coliseum and wondered how it could still be standing when our Braves must have a new stadium to replace the one built 20 years ago. The Falcons are demanding a new arena for modern day gladiators to replace the domed cathedral they’ve played in only since 1992. Like Yankee and Shea before them, both fields will be demolished to give way to new structures built with the most modern engineering and design. What will be left of our civilization in 2000 years? Where will people walk to get a sense of who we are today? Even now, how do our children know where they come from, what battles have been fought and discoveries made to determine how they came to be living the lives they live? Our history resides primarily in books, whereas the people of Rome are living with it every single day, so that they have no doubt of who they are or what their roles are in the great, long life of their city. They have no need to prove to the world “We are here!” Excepting the Chinese and the Egyptians, very few of us can consider ourselves their peers in terms of civilization and longevity.
Then there is the Vatican and its art. Statues and paintings that are so alive you would swear you saw them breathing. I stood before Michelangelo’s Pieta and could not help but shed tears for the mother cradling the broken body of her son. Not the son of God, not the founder of the world’s most enduring religion, just the man to whom she gave birth, saw his first steps and heard his first words, taught to dress himself and use a spoon. She would not abandon her baby, even at the end, bearing the unbearable at the foot of the cross of his torture and horrible, unimaginable death. Mother to mother, I shared her pain. It hardly seems enough to call the sculptor an artist.
Yet artist he was, and if you need more proof, simply look to the Sistine Chapel. The drive for excellence and the time it took to achieve is certainly unequalled in all of history, yet his magnificent paintings have depth and substance that makes them seem too heavy to remain afloat 70 feet above the floor 600 years after the last brush stroke. Here again, Rome (or in this case the Vatican) lives with its history as the Sistine Chapel is still in use as a place of worship today.
St Peter’s Basilica is filled with tourists, many of whom are not Catholics but like myself have come to admire its size and magnificence. Nonetheless tucked in every nook and cranny are the followers of the faith, ignoring the heathen masses and dropping to their knees in prayer. History alive.
We loved Rome with its timeless ruins, friendly people and amazing food. What a wonder it is to say “I’ve been there.”