Scene 9
Colosseo & Ancient Roma

Ancient Rome, The Italian Renaissance, And Postmodern Love

by Frederick Noble

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VII. Colesseo - The Coliseum. Heather sang a portion of a Tom Waits song for me and it’s been in my head since. Here’s the lyrics so perhaps it’ll be stuck in your head too:

The women all control their men
With razors and with wrists
And the princess squeezes grape juice
On a torrid bloody kiss
What will you be wearing there
The lion or the raven hair?
The flesh will all be tearing
But the tail will be my own
In the coliseum tonight
This one's for the balcony
And this one's for the floor
As the senators decapitate
The presidential whore
The bald headed senators
Are splashing in the blood
The dogs are having someone
Who is screaming in the mud
In the coliseum tonight
Now it's raining and it's pouring
On the pillaging and goring
The constable is swinging
From the chains
For the dead there is no story
No memory no blame
Their families shout blue murder
But tomorrow it's the same
In the coliseum
A slowly acting poison
Will be given to the favorite one
The dark horse will bring glory
To the jailer and his men
It's always much more sporting
When there's families in the pit
And the madness of the crowd
Is an epileptic fit
In the coliseum
No justice here, no liberty
No reason, no blame
There's no cause to taint the sweetest taste of blood
And greetings from the nation
As we shake the hands of time
They're taking their ovations
The vultures stay behind
In the coliseum, in the coliseum
In the coliseum tonight
In the Coliseum by Tom Waits/K. Brennan

The Colosseo is impressive, designed to house something like 50,000 people who came to watch thousands of animals, slaves, gladiators, and prisoners of every faith put to death in spectacular ways. The place may have had a canvas roof over the seating to provide shade, and rumor has it the floor could be flooded to stage mock naval battles. I don't think there is any stronger evidence of a society with too much time and money on its hands. But perhaps the most striking thing about it is it's exactly like any arena in any city in the U.S. (In fact, the word "arena" comes from the Latin word for sand, "harena," used to soak up the blood of the acts staged there.) You can easily see it being used for a baseball or football game today. But the inside is a disappointment. It's pretty much all ruin.

Even the exterior only has a small portion of the original façade, and it’s this you’ll see in all the photos. But go around to the backside and you’ll see the layers of façade stripped away. Post-Empire Romans used the Colosseo and the entire Forum as a marble quarry to build their new city from the ruins of the old for hundreds of years before it became a tourist attraction worthy of preservation. So now you have to use your imagination, and 10,000 lire, to get a feel for what the mighty Colosseo might have been like in it’s heyday.

Coliseum

Roman Centurians
Fake Roman soldiers on smoke breaks chatting on cell phones don't exactly help you imagine what Roma was like at the height of the Empire...

Coliseum

Coliseum

VIII. We skipped the neighboring Palatine Hill. It’s not worth the 12,000 lire, about 8 U.S. dollars, to get into the park unless you have not seen and will not get a chance to see any other Roman ruins at all. There's just not that much to see. We even skipped the Forum, though it’s free. We walked past, looking through the fence, and saw the few stray columns and piles of rock, hot and crowded in the summer.

Forum

Forum
This is the largest, most complete building left in the Forum.

Forum

An amazing jaunt for a single day by a couple of slackers, eh? I’ve undoubtedly forgotten at least one holy/ancient/amazing church/ruin/museum in there, but we saw so much it was utterly overwhelming. And the whole way my guide insisted on taking the back streets and side alleys, all filled with charming cafes, incredible churches, and odd shops. And all of these decorated in sumptuous style with marble faces looking down from the frames of windows, doors studded with brass knobs, and arches opening to courtyards containing beautiful fountains.
But it was time to slow down and refuel. We searched back alleys for a good restaurant, something with locals instead of tourists, and did a fair job. Heather had a tasty-looking seafood medley pasta. I picked lasagna - big noodles. This particular set of big noodles was drenched in a tasty cream sauce. Yummy.
St. Ambrose has been often quoted, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”
Of course he said it in Latin and that’s not the precise translation but I’m sure he would have smiled watching us slurp down the food with gusto.

A nap and a bath and we charged back out for more.
We found part of a music festival in a back alley, an acoustic band led by a man singing a pretty falsetto, but we were in search of bigger game so we wandered on and found it in Piazza del Popolo. Some famous filmmaker or musician or someone, I can't recall who, had set up a music and light show with huge speakers, smoke machines and various lights shining on the surrounding churches and buildings and on the big fountain in the middle which was topped by yet another Egyptian monolith. (It's a wonder there's anything left in Egypt at all with as much as the Romans and others dragged out of the place.) The neato light show was choreographed to some Tangerine-Dream-like electronic music and the surrounding crowd and smoke made the entire scene feel like some sort of odd ceremony designed to summon some ancient deity from the central monolith as the lights played over the hieroglyphs and reflected off the surface of the pool.


Piazza del Popolo by day.

All total we spent 10 hours walking that day. Yep, 10, I counted them on my blistered toes.

I woke up this mornin', feelin' round for my shoes
Know by that I got these old walkin' blues, well
Woke this mornin' feelin’ round for my shoes
But you know by that, I got these old walkin' blues
Lord I feel like blowin’ my old lonesome horn
Got up this mornin’, my little Bernice was gone, Lord
I feel like blowin’ my lonesome horn
Well I got up this mornin’, whoa all I had was gone
Well, leave this mornin' if I have to, ride the blinds
I feel mistreated, and I don't mind dyin'
Leavin’ this mornin', if I have to ride the blind
Babe, I’ve been mistreated, baby and I don't mind dyin'
Well, some people tell me that the worried blues ain't bad
Worst old feelin' I most ever had
Some people tell me that these old worried old blues ain't bad
It's the worst old feelin', I most ever had
She’s got a elgin movement from her head down to her toes
Break in on a dollar most anywhere she goes
Ooh, from her head down to her toes
Lord, she break in on a dollar, most anywhere she goes
Walking Blues, a traditional tune done by Robert Johnson, amongst countless others.
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