Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Coliseum brings out the worst in people

School's started and summer is becoming what it works best as -- a memory. But if you thought I was done with the Italy stories, you were wrong. I've yet to relate the lowest point of our Italian adventure, and what kind of a mom amok would I be, if I kept my parenting failures to myself?

A few days before we left Italy, David's sister flew in from California to join us. All of us were delighted to see her and since she’d never been to Italy, I put myself in charge of showing her around the town.

“I’ve saved all the big stuff to do with you,” I told her before she came, “St. Peter’s, Galleria Borghese, and, of course, the Coliseum.”

Looking back with a clear mind, one not deranged by international travel, I see this was akin to telling her “I got you a root canal for you birthday!!!” Who the hell wants to go to the Coliseum at high noon in August?

I had, though, been priming Primo for the trip to the Forum and the Coliseum, having read half a dozen books about ancient Rome. We knew that the Romans ate stuffed jellyfish and camel’s heels and we knew all the names for the various rooms of the public baths (frigidarium, caldarium, tepidarium) and that Roman pater familiases could sell their children into slavery. We were ready for the moderlode of ancient Rome. We were ready for the vomitorium.

Since we never got up and running in Rome ‘til about the crack of noon, we arrived at the Coliseum by 1pm, the absolute peak of heat and crowds. The line to get in was beyond insane. Even more insane was the level of whining and complaining coming from the kids.

“I DON’T WANT TO GO TO THE COLISEUM!” Sec yelled over and over again, “I WANT TO GO HOME!”

“This is boring!” Primo whined, “I’m bored. I’m hot. I’m thirsty, My legs are tired. I need to be carried. I’m hungry. This is boring.”

When he saw the line, it was, “Are we going to have to wait on that LONG LINE????”

“No,” I said, Ingenious, resourceful Momgeuvyer that I am, “We are definitely not. No way.”

I'd done some research on avoiding lines at the Coliseum, and though I was not willing, under any circumstances, to give up any sleep to get there earlier, I was ready for some shortcuts. I’d read that as your tickets always includes both the Coliseum and the Forum, a good trick is to walk a few blocks to the Roman Forum ticket counter, where there’s hardly ever a line, buy the ticket there and proceed directly to the front of the line at the Coliseum. We did this, and it worked marvelously. Only problem was, we opted to actually go into the Roman Forum and take a look around, seeing as we were already there and had the ticket and all.

I knew this was a bad idea. I’ve NEVER had a pleasurable time at the Forum and I’ve been many, many times. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was all a big hoax engineered by SPQR centuries ago to generate some buzz and tourist traffic. Unlike the Coliseum or the Pantheon, which are both pretty much intact structures with irrefutable grandeur – the kinds of places that give you goosebumps -- the Forum is a collection of rubble. I’m not trying to be mean, and I know there are those who’d disagree, but let’s be honest here. You’ve got a bunch of broken-down columns and lots and lots of piles of broken rock: it could be ANYTHING. No one, not even those with electrifying imaginations, could possibly imagine any of it as anything other than well-placed rubble. It is impossible to ever discern what any of the rubble used to be because for some reason no one has ever bothered to erect any signs. If there was a large placard which read “Curia” or “Senate” then that’d be a start,

But as it is, everyone just trips along the uneven stone ground and stares at the columns and stuff and says

“Ohhhh. Wow,” like they’re moved or amazed when they’re all thinking the same thing as me which is, “Are you shitting me? I paid 12 Euros for this?”

This trip to the Forum was just as disappointing as the others except that we were carting around two tired, hot bored kids around and I felt compelled to educate them on the place because we’d read so much about ancient Rome, and this, we heard, was the very heart of it.

So I basically stood there in the middle of the Forum, shouting in no particular direction, “What is this I’m looking at?” and sometimes another tourist would make a stab at a guess and then I’d make up some shit about Julius Casear. After a half hour of this, everyone was worn out. We all wanted to go home. But this was just a warm-up to the Coliseum. So we walked BACK over there, in the heat, dragging now, really depleted of energy and goodwill.

But then something amazing happened. Once we were finally in the Coliseum, and once I’d secured a book from the gift shop with plastic overlays that showed what the Coliseum used to look like, inside and out, Primo was jazzed up and totally engaged. He sat on a bench and started sketching in his travel journal.

“This, right there, is what we do it for,” I was thinking.

Then David said, “OK, let’s go.”

“What?” I said, “He’s finally into it. We’re sitting down in the shade. Give him some time to sketch/”

“Well that’s great that HE’S into it,” he said, “but the rest of us are totally over it. Your daughter hasn’t wanted

to be here from the get-go and she won’t shut up about it/”

It was true. She was lying on the ground, crying and kicking her feet, a full-on tantrum.

“We’re going NOW,” he said.

“Well, I am enjoying myself,” I said, “And I don’t FEEL like GOING yet.”

“There are more people here than just you!” he came back.

“I KNOW THAT!” I yelled,

David’s sister was looking agonized, between Seconda’s never-ending tantrum and our shouting match.

“We should just go SEPARATE WAYS!” David exclaimed.

“GOOD!” I yelled back.

Then it occurred to me that it really was a good idea. “We should,” I said, “We should divide and conquer. Why didn’t we think of that sooner? You guys go get some food and I’ll stay here and sit while Primo sketches/”

Which is precisely what we did. And the day started looking up. It was clear that after nearly two weeks of constantly being together, we needed a break, particularly the kids, from each other. Both of them transformed from awful brutes to sweet, agreeable dears: David said Sec even APOLOGIZED for being such a pain, as soon as the strolled away from the Coliseum. Primo and I walked all over the city that afternoon – to Piazza Venezia, the Campidoglio, Torre Argentina, the little-known rooms of Saint Ignatius where there are three-dimensional angels from the sixteenth century on the walls. When we reconvened in a few hours, we all felt better and happy to be together again. Then David, his sister and I went out to dinner while my aunt and cousin watched the rugrats.

Togetherness is a wonderful thing but you know what they say about two much of a good thing. It freaking sucks.