My dear, dear friend Kristin invited me almost a year ago to come along for her family reunion in Le Marche, Italy. I accepted immediately as I am prone to do at invitations that include dear friends, fine food and free lodging. The week-long reunion quickly ballooned into a full on European vacation, which will culminate in four countries, more bottles of sparkling rose than I care to count and about 10lbs more of me to love.
After six weeks stateside, I may never have been more excited for a flight than I was this time. Not to knock my homeland, but I was ready to get out of the U.S. and to get back to my 'normal' routine of sherpa-ing my load and moving every few days. Go figure, last post I was saying how worn out I was from this pattern and now I long, LONG for it.
Upon landing in Rome I found my way to my perfect shoebox of a hotel room three blocks from the Termani train station and engaged in that loveliest of European traditions, the afternoon nap. I woke up, raring to go, at 3:30 p.m. and started speed touring my way through the city. Fountains, Basilicas, Piazzas and then… THE Coliseum.
Wow – until you see it in person you cannot imagine the power of that place. During my travels, I stop frequently to marvel at the steps that led me to be somewhere at a particular time, but when those moments happen at the foot of history, it is especially powerful.
I have been ridiculously fortunate to see some of the true wonders of this world, Angkor Wat in Camobdia, calfing glaciers in Alaska, orangutans in the wilds of Borneo and the magnificent Grand Canyon to name just a few, but there is nothing that for me could compare with seeing Rome.
I took three years of Latin in high school and really the only thing that stuck was the word for Roman road: iter. This has actually proved very useful in solving the occasional crossword puzzle, but other than iter (and the ability to identify root words in a myriad of Latin-based languages), I’m afraid my teacher Mrs. Uhl would be sorely disappointed in my retention. But on this day, to walk along an iter in front of the Colusieum affected me greatly.
Back in New Zealand my camera took about ten nasty falls, which finally resulted in its demise. Over the last year I have been traveling with a Sony Cybershot – that’s it, just a pocket snapshot camera for the 15,000+ photos I took. I did this on purpose, I did not want the weight or stress of an SLR and I knew I could take good enough photos even with a point and shoot, but with the death of the Sony came the overwhelming urge to buy a full kit. And that is exactly what I did.
As I strolled through the Forum at dusk, greedily snapping photos with my new big shot camera, I fell back in love with photography. No detail escaped my lens, hundreds of frames ticked by until the twilight was gone and it was time to move on.
Among the ruins of the Forum, passing ancient columns and headless sculptures, I began to sense just exactly how shiny and new I am; a particularly nice feeling to have three days before my 36th birthday. It was an amazing day and I capped it off by eating at a street side café near my hotel, where I unabashedly stared at passersby.
The art of dining alone is a fine one. Most solo diners opt for distraction tactics, a book or magazine, nowadays many can be seen dissolving into their Blackberrys or iPhones, but none of these can hold a candle to the real joy of solo dining – gawking. I now gawk openly, sure I may bring a journal and I might even pick up its accompanying pen from time to time, but staring is what really tops off a good meal.
I watched the waiters yell something I could not understand with words, but their amazing repertoire of hand gestures and tonal inflections made it look like a scene straight out of Goodfellas. I can only assume one must have said something negative about the other’s Mama, something nearing a capital offense, but just tasteful enough to spare his life.
I watch young beautiful couples too in love to keep their hands to themselves, middle-aged women cracking themselves up from within the walls of some long-forgotten private joke, walking fashion models and faux paus, a parade of sensible shoes, fanny packs and ball caps peering up only momentarily from their Lonely Planets to check a street sign and then plod onward. I loved them all equally.
Weeks before Kristin and I had arranged to meet at the small hotel near the main Termani train station. In the interim she had been in Africa with a group called Heart for Africa, which provides aid to women and children in Kenya among other places. Due to the remote nature of her trip we would not be able to confirm that either of us had arrived in Rome according to plan until she showed up at the hotel.
It always amazes me, in this day and age of cell phones, emails, Tweets and so on, when a date set weeks before and not confirmed 48-, 24-, 12- and 2-hours prior actually pans out, but sure enough around 10 am July 12, 2009 Kristin arrived just as we had planned.
Begin at the Beginning
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