Roma la Bella

        I wake up aching from a combination of being sick from SARS and sore from carrying all my monthly possessions on my back. Italian pastries with sides of ibuprofen and caffeine offset the soreness and get me touristing. We start at Circus Maximus, which is basically a large oval of dirt with some stone columns in varying levels of decay at one end. This pattern would be repeated throughout the day: big name, little left. However, the stories made it well worth it. An otherwise indistinguishable stone becomes awe-inspiring upon hearing that it marked the spot of the altar for the shrine devoted to the Deification of Julius Caesar. Emperors who liked their predecessors had the former head honchos declared gods and built shrines to them. Another cool story lending loftiness to a pile of rocks was the tale of Nero, who decided he was a god, had a house built covering a substantial chunk of Rome, and then committed suicide a few years later. Our weirdness about sex dates back at least as far as Ancient Roman times, too: the 7 Vestal Virgins gained high status in society through their beauty and lack of sexual promiscuity.
        2 monuments today that impressed even without audio guides were the Coliseum and the Pantheon. "Gladiator" helped me envision the battles once waged there for entertainment, even though picturing the original structure took much imaginative reconstruction. The Pantheon was breathtaking in reality, capped by a massive concrete dome inexplicably constructed. Random good luck: it's the last day of "Culture Week" or something like that, so we get free admission everywhere.
        "Culture Week" includes old rocks and rock: Paul McCartney played for free outside the Coliseum. He got Italians dancing in the streets throughout the crowd of at least 100,000, but many booed when he announced his next pieces would be "some newer stuff." Slight nervousness when Riad and I lost our cotraveling friend Tom in the crowd, but he beat us back to the hostel in one piece. One bus ride with a little sleazeball Italian guy unsuccessfully trying to pick our pockets later and we're back to the hostel where we promptly pass out.

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