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All Roads Lead To Rome
1998 Mick Cusimano

All roads lead to Rome ....and theyíre filled with maniacs riding motor scooters. While you're looking up in awe at huge monolithic fountains, Renaissance churches, and ancient ruins you might get run over by a Roman on a two-wheeled chariot talking on a cell phone. The truth is Rome is a wonderful bustling place. After checking in to my bed & breakfast my first foray was to the Borghese Museum to see the Carravagio paintings but it was sold out. Ambling through the park I came out on a busy thoroughfare. Some monuments were undergoing extensive renovation in anticipation for the Millennium celebration for 2000. I saw people walking into a church so I followed inside to see the architecture. In one corner of the church were 2 famous Carravagio paintings of St. Paul. Saint Paul looked as astonished as I was to find them. Next door was a Salvador Dali print show. I walked up the Spanish Steps, one of the favorite tourist hangouts.

Flying into Rome I had to set my clock ahead 6 hours. The next day I had to set it back 2000 years as I visited the Roman Forum, the Arch of Constantine, and the Colosseum. The lions are long gone but I met one of their modern ancestors. a little black & white kitten living in the ruins. (see cartoon) Outside were guys dressed up as centurions who would pose with tourists for a few thousand lire.

Mary, a young American woman, was giving free tours of the Colosseum and inviting people to join her for an evening tour of Ancient and Baroque Rome. We walked through the ruins past the Arch of Titus and climbed up on a hill. In a moment I will never forget, our tour guide broke into recitation of the famous Marc Antony speech from Shakespeare, "Friends, Romans and countrymen lend me your ears." Brutus said Caesar was ambitious and of course Brutus is an honorable man".etc." At that moment the sun was setting behind her on Caesarís Forum. Mary took us to the Trevi Fountain to toss in our coins to guarantee a swift return to the Eternal City. We trekked to the Pantheon and Piazza Navona to see Berniniís incredible fountain of the Four Rivers. In the plaza artists and caricaturists were showing off their wares. There were many fine examples of paintings of the cityís most noted landmarks. When the tour was over Mary invited some of us to join her for dinner. One American couple was in Italy because they had decided that it would be romantic to get married in Venice. We hung out in Piazza Farnese drinking long after midnight with Mary, her sister and her boyfriend.

The piazza was bustling. It seemed that everyone was out socializing at night. Old people, young people, kids. Instead of sitting in their air conditioned apartments watching TV people were out in the plazas. Everyone seems to be enjoying themselves. The waiters at the ice cream stores, the bartenders, they were all laughing. Sometimes it seems Americans get too caught up in making money and being serious that they lose something in the bargain. Everywhere I went I sensed that the Romans really enjoyed life. Not La Dolce Vita hedonism but just enjoying those little things, just being alive day to day. I usually walked home 12:00 or 1:00 AM every night and never really felt unsafe in Rome

The next day I woke up too late to see The Pope but visited the Vatican with its Bernini statues, The Pieta, The Cupola, and of course the Sistine Chapel. I found more of antiquity at The Capitoline Museum designed by Michelangelo.

On Saturday I visited Hadrianís Villa outside Tivoli. The emperorís villa contains old ruins, baths, pools of water surrounded by columns & statues, temples, and a theater. Behind The Temple of Venus are mountains with villages built on the side, an incredible sight. I recommend this side trip, about an hour north of Rome. On my birthday I went south to Ostia Antica to the ruins of an ancient Roman port city.

Venice is such a beautiful visual place itís hard to describe it in words, so I wrote a poem about it equating it with jazz. I only spent an afternoon in Florence. At the Uffizi in room there was the famous Madonna & Child painting by Leonardo DA Vinci. Next to it was an open window framing a view of the hills of Florence. It was hard to decide which was more beautiful.

The food was great of course. When I called the local travel agency they told me it was impossible to find a hotel in Rome for $100/ night. I would have cancelled my trip if I hadnít discovered the bed & breakfast network on the Internet. I stayed in a decent little place in Rome for $35 a night and a 3 star hotel just outside Venice for $65. That room even had a TV. I turned it on and they were showing Bugs Bunny & the Tweety Bird dubbed in Italian. This was in between the massive coverage of Clintonís video deposition, which the newscasters talked about with mocking gestures.

On my last day at the train station at Mestre heading back to Rome this tall young woman about 25 who was reading a comic novel. Few American women read comics. I gave her a copy of my cartoons and she was so grateful and delighted, I think I made her day. Too bad I met her on the way out of Venice, instead of the way in. When I got back to Rome I found out my flight had been cancelled. The airline handed me a raft and told me the oar would be extra. They finally put me on Alitalia Airlines where they served Italian wine and showed the movie Cinema Paradiso to cushion the cultural shock of returning to Boston. Yes I definitely recommend Italy for anyone even with limited travel experience. With a map, and ATM card, and a camera (I took 16 rolls of film) you too can be off on an adventure to The Eternal City.

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