Thursday, April 15, 2010


There's a simple economic term most of you know-diminishing returns-which states, more or less, that the more you have of something, often, the less you'll get out of it. Rome is diminishing returns in city form.

Imagine an entire city made up of historical sites. Like a bad game of Sim City where youve filled your entire city with monuments. Rome, literally, has monuments built on top of monuments built on top of monuments. An example; I took a walking tour through the city on my first day here. We were standing a black from the famous spanish steps-a beautiful monument of its own.
Without moving the tour guide points. First, to his left-"This is the traditional, ancient, home of the Medici family in from." To the center-"This is the home where the famous English poet Keats wrote most of his works" and then to his right-"And this is the Cafe di Greece, where the great Roman artists of the 17th century congregated and, essentially, created the Italian form 17th century art and literature.

All of these would be major attractions in nearly every other city. In Rome, mere asides to a more interesting tour.

It's all a bit overwhelming at first, but days 2-4 I definitely settled in and soaked up as much of Rome as possible. (I think it's impossible to really see ALL of a city like Rome.)

The truly ancient part of Rome is quite ruinous now. (Thanks mostly to Christians tearing things down to create their own monuments.), but I'd studied enough about Ancient Rome-and seen enough Gladitor and HBO's Rome to have a good idea of what the original structres looked like.
Walking through the Roman forum and the Coliseum, and similarly through the ruins of Pompei a few days later, left me primarily with the impression that we take too much pride in our advancements. The technology of 2000 years ago is simply amazing(and even more so, their understanding of HOW to build things.) that taking another 2 millinium to reach where we are now seems like poor progress that would have dissapointed our Roman ancestors.

The Coliseum is essentially the same architectual structure as old Busch stadium, and really doesn't look much more ancient than Wrigley Field...though I think that's equal parts compliment to the Coliseum and condemnation of Wrigley.

The other major attraction in Rome is, of course, the imprint of the Catholic Church. Let me start by saying, St. Peter's is one of the most orntate, detailed, and inspiring places in the world.
This is well known already though. I tried to focus primarily on tihs as I walked through the Basillica and the museum, but I have to admit my personal feelings on all th ehistorical evils of the church put a definite damper on my inspiration.

You see a statue built to a 13th century Pope. Impressive. You find out they built it buy destroying a 1500 year old ancient roman temple and reusing the marble. Less appreciative.
You see the world's largest collection of ancient Roman sculptures. Brilliant. You see the obviously out o fplace fig leaves tacked on. Dissapointing.
The best example of thi swas the Parthenon. Orginally built as a temple to the Roman Gods. It's absolutely stunning from the outside. However, on the inside statues of Christian saints are poorly placed on the walls and uninspired, rather redundant, Christian murals have been painted over the ancient culture. It felt like the midevil equivalent of putting a discotecque in an ancient church. A sad loss of ancient heritage.

Never-the-less, as I said, Roman history is, essentially, the history of me and I was inspired by it. Able to draw lessons from it, and reflect on the lives of peoples past-good and bad-which is the primary reason for going to such antiquated sites. (And, of course, to take the shameless touristic pictures as well.)

Naples-Here's something I wrote while at the castle over looking Naples. I think it describes the city well.

Naples is a step in time. Forward or backward, I'm not sure. It's an ancient city. Used by the greeks thousands of years ago, but also the only city in Italy with a modern skyline that I've seen.

The first impression can only come from the garbage. It's impossible not to notice. It seems to seep out of the streets-like the city's 5 day old beard. The buildings are scruffy, smudged with sut and smog. There is a much heavier crime element here than Rome, and you do have to be careful. The 5 dollar word for the city is "Dickensian".

I find myself wanting to ask the Neoplitans "How could you let it get this way?" as if they were my 10 year old with a messy room. The city is situated so perfectly on the sea. Views from the hills are inspiring. Mountains, valleys, palm trees, seaside.

And yet, Naples has far more charm than any other city I've been to in Italy. The people are more animated, less bothered by the tourists. They are real people. Their ability to still have such a vibrant feeling despite the delapidation makes them far more interesting to me. Naples has the same feel, the same character, as Hanoi. And is much more related to that city than any of the other Italian cities.

Tomorrow I fly(very early) in the morning to Athens. A few days there and I think I'm headed down to the greek islands for a few weeks. Im not sure yet if Ill island hope, or just find one I like and stay there for the duration. Then, instead of going straight to Istanbul, I think Ill head up from the south of Turkey...or I might make a crazy pit stop somewhere else in the world. It's all an open book.

Next post, hopefully from a beach in the Agean, sometime next week.

(PS-wrote this in a hurry. Didnt edit it. All apologies.)

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