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The Eternal City

The Eternal City—Virgil called it that. He walked these streets and penned those words more than 1,900 years ago. Now, we just call it Rome.

I wasn’t supposed to be here. Rome was never on the itinerary. The Eternal City was never in the plan for this trip, but here I am. Partly, that’s due to the airline fiasco on Day One, which left me in Europe with no return flight. Partly, it’s because Rome is a cheap flight from Sicily, and just a short train ride from my transport back to the states from Naples.

So here I am, in the cradle of western civilization, writing about the same streets that Virgil did, walking over stones charred by Nero, past arenas built by Augustus, and watching the sun sink over the Colosseum.

It’s fitting, in a way. I’ve been accidentally following the empire back to its roots since I first landed in London—up to Hadrian’s Wall, south to their city on the Seine in Paris, over to the old ports in Sicily, and now here, to the heart of it all.

I entered Rome the old fashioned way, on foot.

After overshooting the bus stop for my AirBnB by two miles, I found myself casually walking back into the city under its ancient walls—unguarded, these days—and up to the apartment I’m calling home.

Thanks to what I think was a mild case of food poisoning, the half-hour trek was the first real walking I’ve done since Mount Etna.

I’m not sure whether the ill-advised Sicilian sushi finally wore off or the adrenaline of an ancient city under my feet is kicking in, but I’m finally feeling myself again.And (bonus!) I’m able to eat more than toast for the first time in 48 hours. The last part is convenient,  given that a tourist map of Rome comes with a guide to the usual attractions, plus approximately 800 locations to find lasagna. (Lasagna is the best food group.)

So what’s on tap in Rome? Allora, I had no agenda coming into this. But tonight, under the Colosseum, I had an idea.

The lightbulb flashed when I strolled past two photographers, both set up with tripods, both taking the same iconic shot of the building that you’ve seen your entire life. You know the one, it’s a side-view showing half of the building in decay, the other half standing strong. I stopped and talked to them for a while, Noel and Jane. They’d never met, but here they were, connecting under the iconic shot of this ancient wonder.

I glanced at their photos—they were great. I lifted my camera, and then…I didn’t take that shot.

I kept walking.

I walked all the way around the Colosseum to a dark and lonely corner, where I was able to sit and think on a forgotten pile of rubble. Only a few scattered wanderers ambled by as the words ran through my head.

“Win the crowd, and you’ll win your freedom.”

“I will win the crowd. I will give them something they have never seen before.”

It doesn’t matter that the lines are from Ridley Scott’s ridiculously cliché movie Gladiator. What matters is that over the next several days, you’ll get photos of Rome that you haven’t seen before.

None of my photos will last for eternity, but maybe for an instant, they’ll be worth thinking about.

 

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When an urban developer bought my apartment building in 2016, it pushed me out of the soulful streets of Memphis, and outside, into a life on the road. I soon found out that travel was both a cure and an addiction. And I plan to keep going, with readers alongside, for as far as this road can stretch.

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