Luckily the magic of everything that makes up Rome lasts as long as the nail polish I applied on day one, and after a swift re-coat the other day I'm still imagining the eternal city in all of its glory. Graffiti, street signs, what seems like normal houses and streets to the people of Rome and will never, ever seem normal or commonplace to me. Everything I saw was worth photographing, affirmed by the two hundred or so pictures I managed to snap in just three and a half days.
We all grow older day by day, and those days seem to flash by past faster and faster so that the years seem to catch up with me, piling on top of one another and cramming what used to be full memories into snatches here and there. I for one am approaching a significant birthday milestone (or a mid-milestone, if you will) so more and more aware of my increasing grey hairs and diminishing grey cells. In the meantime I am delighted with the immortal beauty of Rome, particularly when the British weather really delivers on a rainy day (like yesterday) and I ask myself whether I really paid my decorator enough to plug my beautiful original wooden windows with filler and weather-resistant paint. (No. I'm sure I didn't.) What's more, writing this blog (I hope) will mean that unless the all powerful force of Google somehow ceases to exist, then I'll still be able to access these posts in my age to remind myself on (a laptop? That's like, so 2011!) of the places I visited in the times I did.
Never can one be more aware of time than when visiting the Colosseum. I first saw it face to face with only air separating us, rather than internet, in 1995, when it was closed for renovations, as was the forum. Now it's open for visitors and we were fortunate enough to get tickets to visit. They only let 3000 people within its confines at a time - I don't know whether because of health and safety or because someone somewhere has done the sums and figured out that it would take so many years for all those feet to damage the brick remains of brutality and beauty - but 3000 it is, nowhere near the original numbers of blood-thirsty masses for panem et circenses.
I shall now say the following only once: "Fortunately, I had the trappings of a broken back so couldn't stand in line"; I say this because I told a very nice security guard this in Google Translate Italian and he let the three of us in immediately, without having to give up or try to stick it out in a 45 minute+ queue. (I would never have made it - grazie mille! Plus it turns out I actually said completely the wrong thing. But I got us in anyhow. We who are about to be tourists, salute you.)
Apparently it was possible to get all those thousands of people in and out of those 80 original entrances in minutes. It was difficult to imagine the original experience, even with the reconstructed 'floor' in sandy-coloured wood at one side of the stadium. In its current state, far easier to peer and crane necks to all those many cells beneath the stadium 'floor' to where the sacrificial lambs of Rome were held before slaughter at the emperors' pleasure.
I've seen Gladiator, with all its many floors (I mean, "Roma, victor", really?!) and could not assimilate the remains of the Colosseum's amazingly complex, sturdy structure (even in ruins) with all those thousands of people. Plus, I can't believe the footage didn't include somebody, just somebody, complaining about the depth of the stairs to even get in. This wasn't Quidditch at Hogwarts; this was real life, and those steps were and still are steep.
So, when in Rome, you can't escape the tourists milling around the villas, columns, marble, piazzas and everything else. It's unlikely that you'd ever find any of these places deserted, because Rome is a true European city (unlike London) and things really do seem to keep happening twenty-four-seven. I couldn't escape them, as you can see from my photographs, but in the end, you either put up or move out, and I wasn't going anywhere else. (Plus, of course, I was one of them. Until I'm the tourist equivalent of David Attenborough this blog's never going to feature places that seem to be completely uninhabited, save the 15-20 production and transport crew accompanying me behind the lens....)
Although I consider myself in part to be someone who has lived in New York and therefore possesses a little piece of that city for myself and in my life, I still hang on to my right to love the touristy joints (or what pass for them in my book). I hope I don't lose my outsider lens of any city I visit, although I fear I've lost it of London. In Rome, everything was special and unique, every terracotta shade of building, every style of iron grid over windows, every square. I loved seeing the stunningly preserved Ara Pacis and Caravaggio between gelati, but I also loved the ready-to-rent streetside scooters, the graffiti and yes, the washing hanging out of the windows, the nuns and the light-up popes. Everything is extraordinary.
Still, I had to see the glories of Rome one more time, ten years after my first visit, so I had to see the wedding cake, the Pantheon, forum (which is a real forum in the sense of amalgamating the styles and structures across different imperial eras, despite the attempts of emperors to tidy things up), and of course - again the Colosseum.