After sweating through my red Hawaiian dress, walking the Palatine and the Forum, listening to The Great Nerd, Mr. Rick Steves, podcast into my ear, the dark coolness of these open doors called to me. I should not really have gone in. I had to pee in a very serious way.
As I approached the doorway, the woman who had been sitting there, supervising a donation box, got up and walked away. So I sneaked right in, feeling the joy of sneaking was greater than the shame of not donating. It was.
Inside the stone-walled room was an altar. The room was underground, as this structure (a church, I guess) was built into the hill, above the Forum.
I was impressed by how Rome is all built on top of each other, and my Vatican tour guide later reminded me that the Romans had to stop excavation for a new subway line because there was just too much crap down there. If they dug it up, they’d have to study it and put it in a museum, and after only a few days in the city, I realized what a pain in the ass that would be. Rome is a great reminder that you don’t have to dig up everything. Metaphorically speaking.
To return: around the corner from the altar there were some steps going down. The first honest-to-God European dungeon style stairs I ever encountered were going down to the crypt at Paris’ Pantheon. I saw them and I was like, whoa, I can go down those stairs?! These were the same deal. Uneven stones tumbling down into darkness, an wonky iron handrail–stairs that Americans would never allow you to attempt out of fear of lawsuits.
Downstairs they were keeping some kind of column, which was part of some kind of miracle that Peter and/or Paul did. I think it had to do with floating, for some reason. I don’t understand Italian. I just thought it was nice that they were holding onto the thing. And I threw half a euro at them on the way out.
That afternoon, on way to the Colosseum, I was finally hit on by an Italian man. I was nervous that this might not happen, and I would have to return in shame. Luckily, some dude forces his conversation on me: my smile is so beautiful (it ought to be, for the dental work I’ve invested in), and he would love to have dinner with me.
What a relief. Even if I didn’t have an A-plus boyfriend back home, my Italian admirer speaks so little English that he can tell me his job is, “In a bank,” but when I ask, “Oh, and what do you do there?” He says, again, smiling: “In a bank.” So yes, even if I didn’t manically love my boyfriend, I have very little patience for such stumbly conversation.
It was also on this day that I decided not knowing Italian was perfectly okay. I felt guilty, since I’d had some third-grade French in Paris, “Sesame Street” Spanish in Mexico. And I’m always trying to show everyone how polite, careful, kind, and good-looking Americans are, all media evidence to the contrary.
But here’s the thing: Romans spread their language around the entire world as far as they knew it. And everyone learned to speak it, and there were certain benefits to that development. So I decided if Romans had Latin, I had English, and my pathetic “bon giornio” and “grazie” were okay for one week.