DEATH AND GLORY: ROME AND “THE COLISEUM,” AND OTHER STORIES….

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Posted Wed, Jan 29, 2014

The Pantheon, built in 126 A.D. Rome, Italy. [Photo by Tony White]

The Pantheon, built in 126 A.D. Rome, Italy. [Photo by Tony White]


INTRODUCTION: GETTIN’ GONE
ROME — Traveling has always offered me adventure, enlightenment and a connection to the culture that I am visiting. I seek a bond with the people that make up the place I am in, and as a journalist I have made it my career to absorb and share these wonderful times through my writings and photography. To me, it is truly living to travel, share my life with other people around the world, give as much as I hope to receive, and come away with a deeper respect and understanding of our shared experience as people.

This shared human experience is portrayed through our daily lives, but the way that these common occurrences are lived out in such an array around the globe utterly fascinates me. Weddings, births, celebrations, gatherings, holidays and funerals are universal happenings in our lives, yet the manner in which different parts of the world partake in these events are anything but uniform. The variety I see around the world in the art of living is what invigorates me to travel and write and photograph and share and to repeat the process.

I feel that traveling, on one hand, is a very personal endeavor in which I often find undiscovered parts of myself. On the other hand, traveling is a communal sport where I immerse myself in human interaction and observation, with a heightened sensitivity to everything around me. Traveling takes me to new parts of the world, and new parts of my own self.

The best souvenirs from my travels are usually minute details of a scene; vivid flashbacks of a personal moment that connects to a stream other memories. I can easily recall the yellow glow of the street lights on the rough, whitewashed walls of Bari, Italy or the the lapping waves of the Limmat river under my feet as I sat next to the water feeding the geese in Zurich.

A guideline in journalism is that people are more important than things. My stories from abroad involve friends I made along the way, their lives and the place they call home. This blog will be the venue where I can share these stories with you, making it our story.

The small details of an otherwise mundane event makes a lasting impression on me when I’m in a new or far-off land They tend to hold an elevated sense of purpose and importance to me. It brings our human connection to the forefront and let’s me realize the invisible, yet undeniable, bond we share as human beings.

Traveling invigorate me in ways nothing else can. It reminds me that everyday life is a very special thing, with the same activities happening across the globe but in a huge variety of cultural ways. It shows me that our bond as humans is sewn through these common experiences and emotional expressions.

Traveling fosters understanding, respect and an enlightenment to the world we live in, and the life we are living. Cultures mingle, people come together, ideas exchanged, relations formed and ultimately different parts of the world come together through traveling. If that is not invigorating, then I’ll never know what is. It’s good to get gone.

Fire Lady Performs in a Pizza. [Photo by Tony White]

Fire Lady, a renowned street performer, hold court in a crowded piazza. [Photo by Tony White]

OLD FRIEND: ARRIVAL IN ITALY
ROME — One day you’re here, the next day you’re not. I woke up in Denver this morning, and tonight I’m laying my head down in Rome. There was a lost day in there somewhere between my overnight, 12 hour flight and an eight hour time zone warp. But, it feels like it has been just one long, amazing, 40 hour day.

My guide Matteo met me at the Fiumicino airport and we drove into the heart of the former Roman empire. The traffic in this global metropolitan hotspot can really only be described as wild. Vespas, Fiats and industrial trucks unapologetically straddle lane markers and weave around each other in a frantic scurry that actually obtains a level of semi-controlled mayhem. The relaxed aura that lingers over Italian culture is in direct contrast to the battlezone mentality that is driving in this country.The guy on that Ducati knows our van is exactly three feet behind him as we fly down the crowded street.

After unloading the luggage at Hotel Ripa, we deal with the first order of business. Beer. We wander down the narrow side-streets of old Rome. The San Pietro cobblestone paths snake past medieval buildings and centuries old corridors. We pop into Donkey Punch, a not-so-old establishment in this ancient neighborhood that sells craft beer and porchetta in a small storefront. I don’t think the Kiss and Sex Pistols mural on the walls were from the 15th century though.

We walked a few more blocks to lunch at l’insalate Ricci, a family owned business for the past 30 years. After having their spaghetti con vongole’, I didn’t need a translator to tell me why the locals love this place so much. The past few days have been a whirlwind of goodbyes, packing, shuttle buses, checkpoints, checklists, airports and airplanes; resulting in a completely shattered relationship with sleep. It has all lead me to this very spot. Before I know it, I am sitting under a white canvas umbrella at a sidewalk table in downtown Rome, slurping a divine plate of noodles and clams with a glass of bianco vino. I am in Rome, and I like it. I like it a lot.

Completed in 1925, it’s blocky, white form earned it the fond nickname of “The Wedding Cake” among the locals. [Photo by Tony White]

Completed in 1925, it’s blocky, white form earned it the fond nickname of “The Wedding Cake” among the locals. [Photo by Tony White]

Matteo and I rendezvous with Mary Grace, Miranda and Rachael. Warmly referred to as “The Girls,” they are the other American students that flew into Rome today. We take a guided walking tour of several Roman monuments and points of interest. Our glorious stroll through history began at Largo di Torre Argentina, the site of Caesar’s assassination at the Theatre of Pompey. We then visited the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, Bernini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers in Piazza Novana and tons of picturesque scenes in between. The final location was the Altare della Patria; a massive monument built in honor of Victor Emmanuel, the first king of unified Italy. This humongous building was completed in 1925, after 14 years of construction. It’s blocky, white form earned it the fond nickname of “The Wedding Cake” among the locals.

Our tour ended at dusk, in fitting style, with a pizza dinner in the open square of Campo de Fiore. My buffalo mozzarella pie with olive oil and basil, on a snappy, cracker-thin crust, made me forever forget that I had ever had pizza before in my life. To say it was delicious would be slighting this whole art form that Italy is famous for. We stopped into a quaint little shop on our walk home for an obligatory gelato that was truly wonderful. We also caught the Fire Lady, a renowned street performer, hold court in a crowded piazza. There’s nothing like the possibility of third degree burns from a fire-breather to help with digestion.

Seeing Rome for the first time in seven years is like reuniting with an old friend. I have thought about her many times since. My memories of her small details are still clear. Wandering through the narrow streets, I run my hand over the of the rough facades of the buildings and the smooth marble of the sculptures. I’m touching the lines on her face and the curves of her body again. That comfort returns to me. It feels like I never left.

The Coliseum Exterior [Photo by Tony White]

The Coliseum Exterior [Photo by Tony White]

DEATH AND GLORY: ROME AND “THE COLISEUM”
ROME — Zeus was the only one who could have awoken me from the continent-hopping, beer swilling, urban trekking, adrenaline-crash induced coma that I fell into on my first night in Italy. Luckily for me he was on the job today, covering Rome with charcoal colored clouds, pounding rain and booming thunder claps that rattled my hotel room windows and my molars. Welcome to Rome punk!

Matteo, the girls and I caught the metro bus to the the Wedding Cake stop, and then followed Via dei Fori Imperiali to the Coliseum. Italy is typically a humid location, especially in the summer, and especially after a five hour storm. The sun begins to slip through as the dark skies break up. I am really regretting bringing this leather jacket now.

The jagged crown of the Coliseum looms in the distance as we gain ground on this superstar of European locations. Arguably the most identifiable symbol of Italy, this place is breathtaking, and has a proud, bloody, dramatic and checkered past, not unlike it’s homeland. The modern name itself is a convoluted term. This dominant example of engineering was originally called the Flavian Amphitheatre and obtained it’s Coliseum title by it’s proximity to the nearby Colossus Neronis. Emperor Nero had this enormous bronze statue made of himself during his full blown narcissistic reign, which was from 54-68 A.D. After his demise, the statue was knocked down and melted into something actually useful. Nero was reviled by the citizens, and apparently the feeling was mutual. He spent only a few months in the city during his 13 years on the throne. He killed his own mother and step brother, so I don’t think he was a big fan of theirs either. Knowing his days were numbered, Nero beat the assassins to the punch and killed himself at the age 31.

Ruins on the Archeological Grounds Near the Coliseum.  [Photo by Tony White]

Ruins on the Archeological Grounds Near the Coliseum. [Photo by Tony White]

Damn! I didn’t know any of this until today. I knew this was the place of the gladiators, ultra violence and countless deaths, but this was really peeling back some historical layers for me. In a symbolic move, stones from the Coliseum were later used in the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica as a symbol of Christian triumph in the region.

Learning of these stories reminds me that history is such a fascinating topic. Walking through the same archways and feeling the same sun on your face, like countless souls from centuries past, is a profound experience. There is a tremendous amount of beauty and astonishing sights in Rome, many with an undercurrent of war and death. Having thousands of years of human history play out on your turf, I guess you’re bound to get some blood on your hands eventually.

We made our way through the archeological grounds around the Coliseum, passing the Arch of Constantine, Arco di Tito and others magnificent sites. Back in the modern world, which seems like a loosely applicable term for Rome, the girls followed their own muse around town while Matteo and I struck out on our own for a good spot to rest our feet and get a drink. The fountain steps in front of the Pantheon seemed to be as good of a place as any. This is where I pinch myself and hope to God I’m not dreaming. I don’t think I have enjoyed a Coca-Cola as much in my life as I did that one. Matteo is an incredibly gracious, funny and intelligent guy that relishes in good food, good friends and good times. I have been running all over town with him for only a day, but I feel like we’ve palling around since we were kids. For a guy like me, this has been one of those days I’ll never forget, and it’s only day two of my four month stay in Italy. La bella vita.

About Tony White

Tony White is a Denver-Area Freelance Writer and Photojournalist. Visit Tony White's blog: www.getgoneblog.wordpress.com

View all posts by Tony White

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