Wednesday, March 7, 2007

When In Rome...

Rome (Roma in Italian) is the capital of Italy, as well as the country's largest and most populous commune with about 2.8 million residents (3.8 million considering the whole urbanized area, as represented by the Province of Rome). It is located in the central-western portion of the Italian peninsula where the river Aniene joins the Tiber. As one of the largest cities in the European Union, the Commune di Roma has a gross domestic product of €97 billion in the year 2005, equal to 6.7% of Italy's GDP — the highest proportion of GDP produced by any single Italian commune.

According to legend, the city was founded by the twins Romulus and Remus on April 21, 753 BC. Archaeological evidence supports claims that Rome was inhabited since the 8th century BC and earlier. The city was the cradle of Roman civilization that produced the largest and longest-lasting empire of classical antiquity. The city was pivotal and responsible for the spread of Greco-Roman culture that endures to this day. Rome is also identified with the Catholic Church and the holders of its episcopal seat are the popes. An enclave of Rome is the State of the Vatican City, the sovereign territory of the Holy See and smallest nation in the world.

I’ll always remember my first day in Rome. It was a warm afternoon in late September when I arrived on a night train from Florence. I lived in L.A. at the time and had bought a three month rail pass at a travel agency in Beverly Hills owned by my best buddy’s cousin. My flight took me to NYC where I’d board another bound for Luxembourg, “the heart of Europe”. And a few weeks later when I stepped off the train and into the largest train station in Europe (this was back in the late 70s), I was greeted by a massive Italian Communist Party demonstration (the Communist Party is still big there). Herds of workers marched down the main concourse complete with red banners and chants of noisy slogans.

Back then (when it was still cool) I traveled with an American flag stitched to my backpack. A guy about my age in a beige trench coat came up to me and said in English that I should “not be alarmed” (had he noticed the terror in my face). He then literally pushed me through the crowd and outside. I had befriended a young career military man named Roberto (I still think he was an under-cover agent). He led me to a cheap pension nearby and promised he would return to following day and “sightsee me”. And he did. On a red motor scooter, he drove at a speed that demanded my full attention in order to hang-on. We went to every tourist attraction and then to a disco that evening (Italians love disco music I was told). Meeting Roberto was the first time I’d realize the importance of making “local contacts” when traveling. He helped make my first trip to Rome memorable. True, there would be many trips to the Eternal City, but none like that first one!

Research info provided by:

And when you get tried of sightseeing, here’s some poems to read:

Driving Past My Ringtone

Yes, my shadow was there.

It was the one in the polka-dot tie and houndstooth steering-wheel.

The sunglasses were its idea and were intended to be a stand-in for

the rear-view mirror until the right radio jingle came along. It never

did. So I accept full responsibility for any losses that may have once

been a full wallet. And I also admit that I barely noticed clouds in the

stare or any unnatural colors that seemed inconsistent in our line of

gaze. By I have to confess, neither one of us was ever aware of horns

blazing when we missed our favorite ringtone and plowed into the

store-front window in my congested bathroom.

Harry Houdini On Holiday

In the poem version about the untied military boots
war breaks out in a virtual car chase allowing
vandals a bumper-sticker of green lights for miles
before the night is lit-up by artillery fire.

Two sacred mounds of prickly hats are blindfolded
then forced to stand before the hangman's noose
where scat looks like a lavish Hollywood movie where
identity theft grows up to be urban blight's stage prop.

The blindfolds don't care. Neither does bird flu. It brings
a twig to the empty c-cup then brides porcupine quills
to boycott any notice of amnesty, so long as those little
metal weighs are still sown in buttons of window drapes.

These poems first appeared online at:
Copyright 2007 by Maurice Oliver. All Rights Reserved.
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