It's our first breakfast in Rome. Water with coffee, try to speak Italian first, there are any number of hints and advice on how to do it. Maybe, like the english museums, we are just overpreparing. We go to a fairly well reviewed place that is, importantly, very close by, being wary to keep our feet fresh for the upcoming tour of the Colosseum.
We go, and order, and attempt a bit of Italian, which is always greet warmly, although I am surprised at how reserved the Italians have been that I've interacted with. Admittedly the first ones I talked to were at the airport and the train station, it was later in the night. But I assume that those I speak to in the hospitality industry are going to be the friendliest of the lot.
And maybe it's not so much reserve, maybe it's more of a coolness. And there is certainly a sense of cool in Italy. My super rad star wars print shirts are the ONLY print shirts I've seen. Everyone is dressed rather well, like out of a clothing catalogue that doesn't have prices, just vaguely recognizable B-list celebrities modeling.
In any case, the proprieter (this post is written after two tours, their .. formality of speaking may have seeped into my writing, you'll have to bear it for a while) is quite cool, and we order our things. I always worry, especially in Europe, that I'll end up spending our entire food budget at an ill advised purchase of a dish, that, while on the menu, hasn't been ordered since Vichy France. The lack of menu and prices is worrying. And maybe moreso since of the many reviews I read of this cafe, one was how one fellow felt he was overcharged. My fears worsened when an Italian speaking customer came in and the owner blossomed into animated smiles and chit chat.
We had a fine breakfast, and left, and the bill turned out fine, or at least, not inflated enough for me to feel ill-used.
We continue to the Colosseum, on foot, as we are still quite worried about the subway.
Stories of pick pockets and conmen have infested our imagination. At least for me, every public area in Rome has been elevated to something like West Side Story with rival gangs here and there with rivulets of unwashed children, flitting through the tourists, pilfering as they run (yes, pilfering). The reality so far has been thankfully underwhelming.
But still, we are happy to walk.
We pass through streets not only buried in history, but history under that history is buried again. Google lensing a random church reveals a stunning interior and history that goes back to when the Black Plague was a real concern.
The streets are invariably cobbled or in such a state of disrepair that they might as well be.
And then we see it. Hunched at the end of the street, the massive Colosseum. As we get closer and closer the brain doesn't quite register. There is too much stone, then to the right, again even more things that I will not be able to learn about because we need to get to the next point of our travels (in this case, the meeting place for the tour). This 'can't stop to learn that thing that looks really interesting', is a recurring theme in our trip in Italy.
We meet up with our tour guide, who is quite professorial. (every tour guide we've ever had seems like someone who takes a deep and meandering interest in history, you get a sense you can go on their tour four times and get 4 entirely different tours). He says 'ah', and 'uhm', quite a bit, but one feels they'd be betraying something if we went with a tour guide who was not emphatically from Italy.
The entire history of the Colosseum is fascinating. But I'll just repeat the one about the name, it was originally known as the Amphitheatre. Around the time of the rise of Christianity, those who would rather NOT have folks going to blood thirsty combat spectacles in the Roman Empire wanted to associate the Amphitheatre with the most hated emperor in recent memory, Nero. Now, there was a Colosseus in front of the Amphithetre that was originally built of Nero, but later glossed over to be .. something else, but everyone knew what that colossus was really about. So early christians began calling the Amphitheatre the Colloseum, to bring that association with the Nero Colossus more closely to mind. It was like proto-trolling.
After the hike through the Colosseum, passing untold number of unread plaques, learning various fascinating facts, we headed to the Roman Forum. Which as far as I could tell, was the community centre of Roman life. But a community centre that had had many life times, and, when escavated in the 1800's, had various era exposed, leading to a hodgepodge of buildings from different eras uncovered.
The amount of history buried here is so voluminous that the early archaelogists of the 1800's would like, toss away, say, housing that was only from the medieval era. It was Rome or bust. There is an inextricable thread leading from the pagan Roman gods to the Roman Catholic faith as it is now. A warring of ideas and traditions. Catholics, time and time again, just deciding to co-opt dates and holidays and traditions from the wildly pagan ones that stood in the way. There is also a thread from the ancient Greeks, who the Roman adored, to the persecution of Christians, to the shape of the Catholic church as it is now.
All these intricate threads are merely suggested at, hinted at as we march along the tour. One gets disjointed bits of information, which sometimes, but often is not really connected to anything else. It's like going down the highway at full speed, maybe something above it, and taking naps while waking at random times to read the bill boards. There is a story there, I have some bits of it, but the larger shape escapes me. But after 3 hours of walking and standing on the cobbled streets and hard stone of the Colosseum, it's really about the iron willed desire to not completely collapse after the tour has ended.
We then go to get gelato. Again, always relying on Google. It's quite good, of course. One of my children (they are now old enough to read the blog so I assume they'd rather not be identified) insists I try and use Italian at anytime I can, so I do try. The ladies behind the counter, of course, see us and immediately greet us with English.
(Coming from Canada, I'm used to 'Canadian' meaning anything, ethnically. But on our travels through Europe I'm struck by how much when you see someone who is of Asian descent, yup, they are definitely from Japan, or China, or what have you. There is in Italy, moreso than England (specifically London), a bit of a monoculture. Seeing of someone who is not of European descent speaking Italian is very few and far between. So I'm sure that helps with preparing waiters and counter-people that no, we are not Italian and can barely say 3 or 4 words. )
They were friendly and welcoming. So was the tour guide. I can only attribute my first assessment in 'meeting a few standoffish Italians doesn't mean they aren't all that way'. I just hope they don't think all Canadians wear rad printed Star Wars shirts.