Roma e il Flavio e pantaloni di Garibaldi

Awoken early by bells tolling the hour. The bell tower within a stone’s throw of the balcony. Not I suspect advisable.

Jetlag exacerbated by headcold/sinusitis. But the day warm and bright, the sky blue, and Rome on our doorstep. Which is overstating our proximity to all of the city. As we found out, having walked half the area covered by the map. And coming home realising that it was the nicest area, with the best prospects for idle wandering, or flanerie.

Olive oil and crusty bread for breakfast. On the balcony. We chose to walk to the Colosseum today. Through Quirinale, where, in the square on top of the hill with its grotesquely overendowed statuary the Polizia and Cabaniere were out in force, in front of the Pontiff’s city house. Protecting a important personage the precautionary measures surrounding whom seemed to follow us right across Rome.

Stopped in to the portico of San Vitale, Frederico Severino’s sculptures.

Il Flavio or the Colosseum by the time we arrived had queues of half an hour so to get in in the unreserved and unguided lines. Black T-shirted con-artists roved down the central column touting for tour-joiners, saying why wait half an hour when for a mere 4 euro extra you could be walking straight in?

We took the bait. And hopped over, defected. The ticket booth guy was completely over it. Speaking English when spoken to in Italian, and demanding DID I GIVE ALREADY? What does that mean? I asked. THIS ONE. He held out a sheet of stickers. No.

YOU MUST STICK THEM ON YOUR SHIRT. The stickers had 10:45 printed on them, presumably the time the tour started, still an half hour away. So, as the turnstile was unmanned, we failed to wait and simply progressed. Into the arena.

Huge. Huge and the thousands of tourists thronging up the stairs, ripide, hardly making an impression, their presence mere dots around the outside of the middle terrace.

I hadn’t realised exactly what it was about, this theatre in the round, having an ‘editor,’ in Rome, the emperor, who decided what events to stage, an art department, for the hunts, whose job was to replicate the natural environments of the animal or animals involved, and a mechanism involving trapdoors, lifts, tanks to flood the arena for nautical battle scenes, a whole special effects capability, and sideline trickle-down businesses, literally, feeding off the main event, since human blood was regarded as an effective medicine with certain ailments, a heath drink, or smoothie. Stupendous that the events were staged for free. And the citizens were then able to take home with them choice bits of meat as an exotic sort of party or loot bag. Imagine how that expanded the palates of the citizenry: barbary lion giblets again, ostrich eyes, hippo flank, elephant gizzard, dolphin too? There is the possibility that the Romans were first in this too: aquatic contests, dolphin versus shark, and so on.

It all ground to a halt in the sixth century or so, the understage having been filled with dirt, the contests limited in scope to dowsing wrong-doers with spirits, setting them alight and making them dance themselves to cinders. Expanding the vision of Romans to include new forms of interpretative and modern expression in dance. Whence of course butoh.

When the party was finally over for the Romans and the city had been sacked the structure of the Colosseum was plundered for building materials. And continued to be for another thousand years or so. A family did move in and set up residence. And a use was found for the vast stable like complexes of the lower levels as stables. For horses exclusively.

Not until the 19th century were the depredations brought to a halt and the building ‘frozen in time,’ as the notice put it. (Note: the tour we missed out on fell into the category of ‘didactic’ tour. which makes one think of our over-it ticket-seller getting to enforce his message with the liberal use of public torture.) And only in the 20th were fully ‘informed’ decisions made as to how most effectively to preserve it.

The name the Colosseum is known by comes from the scale of the bronzes outside the theatre, as they were seen in the middle ages. The ancients must really appeared as giants then, there having been lost in the meantime the knowledge that enabled its construction, and the knowledge that it was knowledge in terms of technical skill or technology. To the extent obviously that the building was seen as a resource, a mountain of bricks. Leading one to question why what was left behind was. Was it too big to shift? Reinforcing the notion that whoever had put it together must have been big; it was not for the little people to take apart.

And this is precisely what is odd about the Risorgimento as it is represented in the most extravagant fashion by the Monument to Vittorio Emmanuele II. But of course it is not ‘to’ but ‘of,’ since VE II provided in the equestrian statue representing his gargantuan person on his mighty mount – so big that there are pictures of a table seating approximately ten men celebrating its construction inside the horse, in its body – the centrepiece for what was supposed to have wider and further reaching significance, the unification of Italy, the forging of a national identity. So: the tomb of the unknown soldier; the museums in the monument itself to all Garibaldi’s men, and as much to him as to VE II, even down to his trousers, pantaloni, a bandage he wore, a scrap of his writing, the cult of Garibaldi. And the scale of monument and its symbolic placement within the magic circle of the works of the colossi, the ancient race of giants, Romans, but of Italians first.

The Monument is monumental and monumentally kitsch. Whether the aspirations behind its construction were truly civic-minded or not, it dominates in its pristine form a landscape of ruins, only ruins because of an intervening millennium or so of … of what? Of decline, in order that what was fallen, colossally, could rise in the Risorgimento just as colossally? If so then a colossal failure. A feature of the imperial dreamtime.

When we arrived yesterday at our apartment, A_______ who met us said, when asked in the context of what to do while in Rome, that she didn’t like Peter. The reason she gave was that when you rang him up, as often as not the person picking up the phone would say not Vatican City on the line but Vatican State. One might say the imperial pretension survives in Rome but only in God’s city. The failure might then be put down as a failure to reconcile Church and State. No. Not even reconcile, but harness one to the other.

The material bigness of the past. A sense of scale missing and sometimes missed in NZ, even when only talking architectural volume. If we assayed to replicate the bignesses of the colonists would we reproduce the same kitsch? Well, we do. But normally limited to the screen and immaterial cultural sphere. Isn’t there a circle in Dante’s hell to which those condemned forever to make bad art find belong?

The touristic experience of the Colosseum was the usual despair that any person ought to inflict on themselves experiences for the sake of self-betterment, because the others are doing it. This is the depth to which didacticism in terms of civic culture as sunk, the received – anaphoric – message that being a tourist is good for you, ought to be, you can be improved … SO LONG AS YOU VISIT THE SITES RECOMMENDED IN THE BROCHURE.

I think we fall prey to this too. But would do in some form or another. Even if it were the holistic tourism of immersion in the culture and society; or the micro-tourism of taking a limited area and learning to know its nooks and its crannies. Like A_______ said, to the question as to what apart from the tourist venues we should be visiting, you must see as much as possible while you are here.

It was in this spirit that we ascended to the top of the Museum of the Risorgimento to find an old lady who perhaps had not been visited for a hundred years standing guard over a series of academic portraits of the Garibaldis. They had clearly grown as dear to her as her own skin, and it was charming how she simply said he was very old when that portrait was painted or pointed out the ludicrousness of the wig on one of Garibaldi’s sons. She was like a perspicacious Granny, in love with her grandchildren but just as quick to point out their laughable foibles, their laudability taken foregranted.

Leaving the steps the endless steps of VE II’s Monument we were tried to see the Temple of Vesta, a perfectly preserved little bijouette of a Roman landmark. But it had scaffolding and skirts all around it. Behind it a couple were getting their wedding photos done, in front of another building, one that looked like a Roman spaceship. We crossed to the Tiber and walked along its banks before passing back into the already more familiar territory of our micro-tourism.

Evening and we dined at the Little Orange near our place, dining such a little … Care for the little things a great deal and for the great not a hell of a lot, to crib Wilde. We shared fried artichoke flowers and zuccini flowers in batter and then I had Trippa Romana, tripe Roman-style. The set-up at the restaurant is worth quickly remarking upon in respect of the way a little snowball grows. So grows a clientele for the evening. Other restaurateurs might be ought desultorily surveying their empty tables, but the wise maitre d’ knows that a crowd attracts a crowd. After us not the deluge but one or two more tables goes a long way. They did. Up almost to the territorial limits at which space crosses from what is fair game for this restaurant to what is fair game for that.

The Trevi clogged as we made our way through for the daily gelato dosage. People holding their cameras above their heads to get the shot of something, like the Colosseum, not worth photographing for having been so much and better before. By giants for postcards.