Caesar’s Notes: Tuesday, June 1 – “You are 2000 years old. I am 20.”

6 Jun

Belated and abbreviated post for Tuesday – since I have more time this afternoon, I’m going to try and include a few of these in rapid succession to finish recording the week!

On Tuesday, Ashley and I woke up and decided to go for a run. To the Colosseum.

Living in Trastevere, this is not nearly as epic as it sounds. We lace up our sneakers, change into running clothes (our professor would hate this — we were told not to wear shorts or white sneakers in the city to avoid pegging ourselves as tourists!), cross Ponte Garibaldi, run through a few streets, sprint across the Circus Maximus (which isn’t a big deal in itself, or anything), and look around until we spot a big hulking ruin on the horizon. Excusing the fact that Rome is filled with big hulking ruins, we spot this one pretty quickly – and bam. All of those hours of History Channel watching are condensed into one building right in front of me.

We don’t have a camera, so instead of pausing for pictures, we jog closer. And closer. And closer, until I can reach out my hand and touch the wall. “You are 2000 years old.” I say to it (I’m starting to get into this weird habit of talking to ancient structures.) “I’m 20. Excuse my language, but holy shit.”

Dodging tourists, we run the entire perimeter of the Colosseum, silent the whole time. I am a bit out of shape, the Euros tucked into my sock are itching me, and I am getting an awful sunburn on my right shoulder, but I can’t pay attention to any of that. I am too busy seeing the Colosseum on my morning run.

An hour and a stop-start shower later (to conserve hot water, we all have to wash our hair, stop the water, soap up, start the water, stop the water, shave, start the water…rinse and repeat as necessary), I am on the #3 tram on my way to the Capitoline Hill, the Palatine Hill, and the Roman Forum. These sites are our class for the day. I am in dork urban history heaven.

And that’s before I meet Jan Gadeyne, our guide for the day (and for one of our classes next week, too.) His reputation far precedes him – so much so that we heard about him for nearly a half hour from last year’s students during a pre-departure mingle in New Haven. Why, you might ask? Because he’s a beast. First of all, he was featured in the History Channel’s “Rome: Engineering an Empire” and PBS’s “Did Rome Really Fall?” Second of all, he has not one but TWO Facebook fan pages and a YouTube impersonator. And third of all, he walks SO. ABSURDLY. FAST.

Jan sketching out the four quadrants of the hill. At one point he turned and snapped at us: "Do not sit down! This is not an ElderHostel tour!"

So I came prepared, having stretched from my run and tapped into my Yale tour guide/New Hampshire cul-de-sac walker mentality. If you are unfamiliar, both the Palatine and the Capitoline Hills are famous in the history of Rome because they are two of the Seven Hills of Rome that surround and cut through the city. The Palatine Hill in particular is the site of the homes of Rome’s most ancient settlers, including (legend has it) the hut of Romulus, one of the twin brothers who founded the city (remember that story? suckled by wolves, Romulus kills Remus? ahh, now you’re with me). Archaeologists have found traces here of civilization going all the way back to the 9th century B.C. Because of its legendary importance, many emperors built their palaces here (Augustus literally built his to encompass the traces of Romulus’s hut), and we get our word “palace” from the name “Palatine.”

Me on the Palatine. It's not so bad to be "over the hill" when you're around buildings that are several millennia older!

Taken together, Jan Gadeyne’s guidance and my epic surroundings meant that I saw a lot of superbly-explained, stunningly-old sites over the course of three hours and was out of breath the entire time. Though I am proud to say that I KEPT UP, even when the entire rest of the group got lost behind us. Jan gave me a grudging, “You’re a little better than the rest of them…but I’m still not impressed,” at the end of the tour. We’ll see how I do next time we meet.

Ruins from the Palace of Domitian. At its (literal) height, the palace had walls that were 100 ft. high.

The best part of the outing (besides the scenery and Jan’s continuous griping about the flowers that had been planted on the hill “to please the tourists”) was the Roman Forum. The forum first became a proper Forum in around 625 B.C., so it beats even the Colosseum by a long shot. Heck, even Cicero had his digs here for a while. Among the ruins: the Temple of Julius Caesar (and the site where much of “Julius Caesar,” the Shakespeare play which we had to read during our spring term semester, takes place!); a few bricks left over from the Imperial Rostra, a platform from which ordinary citizens could get up and make speeches to the crowd; a handful of temples, each with a few marble pillars or ceiling blocks remaining; and my favorite, the Curia Senatus, or the former senate house which has been carefully reconstructed around its foundations to the point where I stood still, closed my eyes, and just imagined all of the debates that had raged there and famous orators who had spoken. Throughout the day, I felt as though I could hear the ruins echo.

Sections of the Forum; also, HELLO, pillars.

Talk about a walk back in time...

We made our way back to our apartment after class and did a little shopping for dinner, including a short stop into this delicious cheese, bread, and wine shop whose owners speak absolutely no English. We communicated with sign language and baby Italian.

Don't worry, I won't insert another cheesy pun here...oops.

Before cooking dinner (spaghetti with a sauce of meat, zucchinis, eggplant, etc; salad; bruschetta; wine and cheese), Jonah (one of the guys in the program) and I made one more field trip. We went to John Cabot University, a nearby English-language college, and we attended a poetry workshop by Mark Strand, former Poet Laureate of the United States and current Writer in Residence at John Cabot. Sitting in the audience with my notebook open, I couldn’t believe that I was hearing this American poet read poems translated into Italian while sitting in Italy. A cross cultural triumph.

When dinner ended, the girls and guys split up again, and while the guys were off exploring the local pub scene, we went for our first night walk around Rome.

Setting off on our night walk.

Rome is an AMAZING city at night. Everything is walkable, populated, safe, noisy, and full of couples making out (and I mean seriously making out, leaving no room for the Holy Ghost) until at least 3am, often later. We didn’t have a destination in mind at first, but we ended up at the Pantheon. Kind of like how we had “ended up” at the Vatican and the Colosseum. What can I say? Rome is a good place to wander.

My, Pantheon, what big columns you have!

The whole city changes in vibrancy after sunset, and while not everything is enhanced, many of the statues and buildings have an ethereal glow (okay, okay, or just an added glow from strategically-placed tea lights) when set against the night sky.

Just another bridge statue looking epic.

The buildings rise out of the darkness, and I am left feeling awfully small, and completely awed.

After almost two hours of walking, we make our way to the Vatican to see St. Peter’s after hours. The crowds are gone, no cars are whizzing down the street in front of us; in fact, were it not for our footsteps, it would be just the cathedral and our breath. And my thoughts quiet down, and I stop in the center of the street, and I think there is a whole world waiting for me in this silence.


One Response to “Caesar’s Notes: Tuesday, June 1 – “You are 2000 years old. I am 20.””


  1. #2: Finding Your Map | 13 Ways of Looking - September 9, 2013

    […] During my summer in Rome, my friend and I were famous for this kind of walking. We would wave as everyone else got on the bus to head home and disappear for two hours into the bowels of that city, learning and touching and absorbing til we were stuffed full. We even recorded two of our favorite evenings after the fact – “Letter to My Archivist” and “You are 2000 Years Old. I am 20.“ […]

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