Sometimes the Accidental Decisions Are the Right Decisions

Last day in Rome. Last day in Italy. I feel as though I’ve been here for much longer than 10 days and I think I’m ready to go home.

I’ve also passed a milestone in my time here, in that I can sense my language skills improving. It takes just about a week for the Italian language switch to flip in my brain, and I’ve felt the improvement over the last few days as my brain acclimates to Italian rhythms and inflections. In my mind I’m starting to process what I’m hearing and accept it without translation. I’m understanding ever greater stretches of conversation, and my inadequate vocabulary is becoming increasingly conspicuous.

I cannot do any museums at this point – perhaps you have noticed that I haven’t visited many this trip. Too often I find myself speeding through galleries in search of something interesting, and the various allegories (allegory of Venice, for example) and flat paintings just leave me cold.

I have seen many churches on prior visits, and while I wouldn’t mind another stop to view St Theresa in Ecstasy, I have seen other churches in other cities on this trip, so this too is off of the agenda.

Today I pay another visit to the ancient world, traversing time to walk her obsolete ways. I hop on the train in the morning and head west, to Ostia Antica, the ancient sea port of Rome. Ostia was important because ships couldn’t navigate the Tiber to reach Rome, so they stopped in Ostia Antica, where the goods were processed (ie grain into bread) or reloaded onto smaller craft that could make the trip.

This city has been compared to Pompeii, but in truth is much more complete than the latter, and we are allowed to range much more liberally, ambling through her alleys, strolling her streets, and passing time in her piazze. We enter homes, delve into basements, and climb steps. And she was large; at times she seems to stretch to the horizon.

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There are many baths here – this was most certainly a very clean city.

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There are bathrooms too – but although I search for as many as I can find, I am able to identify only five or six, which is a good example of inadequate urban planning.

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The theater is mostly intact, and sound projects fantastically.

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I find two mill houses (there were surely more), where some of the mills still stand, judging, like the statues of Easter Island, expressing a voiceless prescience.

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There are also at least three Mithraea, temples to the god Mithras.

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Finally, here I visit the last church of this voyage. Built in the 4th century, the basilica had 2 naves, 2 apses, and 3 side chapels. (The picture, like many of my church photos, is shot wide, for the sake of tradition.) Like the town around her she has long since passed into the shadow of memory and been claimed by the indiscriminate avarice of the passing years.

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I return to Rome in late afternoon, with just enough time to visit the forum. Another anachronism, her arches and fallen colonnades and absent porticoes proudly proclaim their grandeur and glory, if even only a spectral memory of such remain. Shadows grow longer and the day turns to gold as I retreat to the sturm und drang of the Roman streets.

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I have a gelato and contemplate dinner. I feel as though I should want this to be special, but am frankly just not that hungry. After perusing many a menu, I give up and stop in an enoteca (wine bar) near the Spanish Steps. I sit at the bar and order a negroni (the Italians love this drink) whilst reading the menu.

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Ultimately I settle for a very Roman dish, one which I have had already this trip: carbonara, in this instance rigatoni. It is not great, but decent. I have this with a glass of the local white wine while watching football on the TV.

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I finish the meal and then a grappa as I speak to some lovely American ex-pats who are living in Rome. The din of the enoteca swells and swirls around us, as does the conversation. This is a regular stop for them, a place where they know everybody and everybody knows them. It is a comfortable casual hangout. And in the end I have not, by any means, had an average meal. In the end it was a different experience, one much more intimate and local than most restaurants could provide. This was a perfect last meal in Rome. I am alive in the moment and am at one with the city.

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