The Roman Holiday

“Can you believe we are going to roam around in Rome?” said the excited son. He was very proud of his homophone.

“Isn’t it funny? Roaming around in Rome?”

“Yes! You bobble head! I said it was funny the first time you said it.” said the teenaged daughter pulling an I-can’t believe-this little fellow face. I laughed, knowing this was only setting the stage for at least another 108 times we would have to endure the phrase in Rome, and I was not mistaken. The nourish-n-cherish household is proud of its jokes.

“Have you done your homework? Did you spend some time trying to figure out the places to see?”

The husband’s I-love-my-wife-but-I-know-what-she-doesn’t-do-well tone deepened.

Setting aside the dismal feeling of being caught in school, I told him (patiently),
“Relax – I got the itinerary from my colleague who went there for his honeymoon, and it has a pretty good list of things to do including details on where to catch a sunset.” I said winking. “I even prepared a doc and shared it with you.”

He looked surprised, but right enough, when he opened the doc, he discovered entries like:
Check out the colosseum, if there is enough time, also add Palantine hill, and the Piazza Navona.
On the way back,  spend some time on the Spanish steps, and near that is Trevi Fountain.

I am no trip advisor, and when I generally send people on their way, I give them a vague list like above, keeping a wide margin for ducking into random stores that attract one’s fancy, stopping at random spots that demand one’s attention, looking at people scurrying about their business, tucking in an extra gelato, dribbling along and finding a couple of boys play football – it is all good fun.


I like to blame my list-making on being one of those staunch believers in the super power of Serendipity, and the gift of winging it. For instance, the taxi driver the previous night told us not to miss the Piazza Venizia.  Piazza Venizia, as it turned out, was one of the most grandiose buildings I have seen. Built recently by Roman standards, it is only a century old among ruins millennia old, but the views from up above of the sprawling city of Rome,  Colisseum and the Palantine Hill were brilliant.


The Romans didn’t believe in skimping on the grandeur. Glancing skywards and finding flying chariots bearing regal men atop their chariots was so novel that we found ourselves gawking like fish seeing Poseidon’s horses swishing through the seas for the first time.
“Poseidon was a Greek God, his Roman equivalent, Neptune, wasn’t as powerful because the Roman Navy wasn’t very powerful then”, said the mythology expert, the teen- queen in her mythical world.

Rick Riordan has done a marvelous job in getting tens of thousands of teenagers interested in the Greek and Roman myths, and our tour guide at the Vatican, told us she wrote up a Percy Jackson tour that was hugely popular. I could well imagine it. The city burst with myths. Flying chariots, fountains of fortune, serpents of evil, winged harbingers of war or prosperity jostled along with busts of statues of philosophers, kings, and senators.

Bengt Nyman [CC BY 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons
It was also slightly disconcerting to read about the forms of entertainment in early Rome. We have heard stories of the slave, Androcles, who was not mauled by the hungry lion remembering a past kindness, seen movies of the era etc, but there is something disconcerting about standing amidst the ruins of the Coliseum and reading about the manslaughter, the barbaric practice of skinning people alive etc. A place where hundred of years ago,  people watched this gore as a form of entertainment raises goosebumps.


If that is the kind of evolution mankind has had to come through, we have come a long way, but we also still have several ways to go.

What was that poem about “Miles to go before I sleep” ? by Robert Frost.

Walking among the ruins, you are intensely aware of the fact that toga-clad Roman senators walked the same path 2000 years ago, and if you are even slightly distracted, there are thousands of tourists, their phones, and their respective tour guides to remind you of the significance. In spite of that, it felt strange to see the husband looking at the GPS to figure out directions beside a ruin that was literally thousand years old. What if a spirit from that age were to spring in our paths then and there?

Maybe one did, for the husband saw a chain lying across the road, and attempted his boyish skip across the chain. He underestimated its height and went sprawling face-down on the pavement. After the initial shock wore off, he started laughing, and the son said, “Appa tripped on the trip. Hey! Appa tripped on the trip while roaming around in Rome. Get it? Get it?”, and we all laughed.

Our jokes! Well, they need to evolve too.

The Anthropological Note – Bonjourna

Traveling from the US to any other continent is different. Continents with older civilizations hold an anthropological charm, and a cry to learn from History. Setting foot in the first city on our Italian holiday, Rome, I could palpably feel everything we have heard about Rome ringing in my years.

All roads lead to Rome
When in Rome, be a Roman
Rome was not built in a day

The Great Roman empire, Remus and Romulus fed by a wolf. An Italian Sojourn was unfolding, and I was filled with the milk of human kindness as we made our way to the first place of stay.

Ruins in the middle of the city – Roman Forum. A pathway over 2000 years old!

Rattling along in the taxi from Rome airport to our place of stay nearer to the tourist spots, our driver was helpful. He gave us tips on places to see, and warned us about staying away from the railway stations at night. “Many people gather there, poor people, people from other countries, it can sometimes be , eh, dangerous for tourists.” he said in his thick Italian accent. I grew to love the tune with which Italians spoke English. “Italy now, there are no jobs enough for Italians, where will these other people find jobs? But they have no place to go, no work to do also.” he said sadly.

It was a sentiment that is commonly heard across Europe these days. Across Italy and Ireland, I heard variants of the same thing: The human heart that wants to share and welcome has to work hard to find the resources to aid all. It is easier for people to take to cynicism, nationalism and protectionism.  The refugee crises has peaked because of religious tensions, economic collapse, tyrannical governments – Rohingya, Syria. Millions are being displaced (Source UNHCR) without any shot at livelihood, and this will have consequences to a planet already stretched to its limits.

Do We Belong On Earth Blog Series

Travel as a Political Act by Rick Steves is a good book to read in this context. It is a book of short essays based on his travels to the countries of turmoil. Israel-Palestine border, Serbia-Herzegovina, Syria, Iran, Honduras.

You can watch the video here


Traveling makes me think of Mark Twain’s quote:
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

A broad, wholesome, charitable view of men is all well when things are going well, and when one as a traveler or tourist is sublimely soaking in another culture, being helped by strangers and so on. I have to admit though, that I had difficulty summoning up charitable views of men when I had my purse stolen a few days later. I was sore at the end of a weeklong journey, and I swore at the pickpocket who stole my purse. Charitable view forsooth!

But, it too taught me something. I had ignored the pater’s teaching about splitting your assets and had stupidly taken all my credit cards together. That learning came with a cold lesson( a painful 6 hour wait in the whipping winds outside the DMV.) Another post for another day.


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