I watched the train pull away with my mom and her bags safely loaded inside, hoping I had put her on the right train going to the right airport. I waited the entire time as it disappeared into the distance, all the while an excitement building up inside my chest. The rest of my trip would be me, my thoughts, and my overly heavy bags. I knew where I would be in a week or three, but had not even a vague idea where I would go after that.
It’s really exhilarating to think of “Italy” or “Europe” as your destination as opposed to having an unadaptable schedule to maintain. Taking this trip in the first place is finally scrapping the life-schedule I created back in high-school and have been adequately following ever since. Right about now I should be working my way up the ladder in a powerful advertising agency in New York. Instead, I’m following the whims of an older and very different person who wants to see what else is in the world and subsequently discover what my real priorities are before I plot out any more points on my map.
The unearthing began with Rome.
I checked into my new hostel on the other side of the train station where all of the Chinese export and cheap knock-off stores live. As I’d been nursing an injured knee since the hills of Montmartre in Paris that left me walking with a peg-leg over the bridges in Venice, I tried to force myself to lay down in the dorm for a while. The room was large and furniture scarce, only emphasizing this new solitude. I think I made it about fifteen minutes before I got stir crazy, wanting to see the Rome that was waiting just outside.
Sometimes the best discoveries are ones not in tourist books. Down the street form the hostel was a pleasant little square I thought contained Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore. I walked through the open gates, past the contemporary sculptures, up the steps of what I thought to be a church, and asked the tall man in the front if it was open. He smiled and said that it was with an undecipherable look on his face, then proceeded to take me to his desk inside, hand me an Italian brochure, and begin to give me a brief history of the aquarium, turned circus, turned house of architecture I had stumbled upon. Since I mentioned I had studied art he got excited and started telling me, with much exuberance, architectural details of the building he thought I would appreciate. I walked out a little wiser and made my way to the Ancient Center.
On my way back to the hostel for another knee-break, I figured I should check out the church I thought I had discovered that morning. Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore was a beautiful, huge cathedral. It took me a few minutes of wandering around and not finding a door to realize I had found the back side. I walked up the block and around the front to see the edifice in all its glory. Inside, the stain glass was glowing and the gold leaf glistened. Fifth century mosaics covered the walls and I could spot a shiny relic on a lower level that the few people in the church were flocking towards. I later found out that it was the Crypt of the Nativity, said to hold wood from the “holy crib” of Jesus. I snapped a few shots, headed home for a nap, then was out and exploring once again.
This time I headed out towards the Circus Maximus. There honestly wasn’t much there to see. Just a dusty ring contained by sloping ground. A few joggers ran laps, and I would have joined in just for the experience had I been able to do anything more than hobble. A dog played catch with the breeze on a mound in the center. And I found a comfortable place down some crumbling brick steps and under a willow tree to relax and watch the sun begin to set over Rome. As the daylight was dwindling, a man sat down near me on the steps with an African drum. Soon another man appeared and the concert began. As the two of them played, the rhythms reverberated off the slopes of Circus Maximus. Soon, more and more people walked up with drums and began to play. I stared off into the distance in hopes they would forget I was basically sitting in their drum circle, just listening. I hated to leave. I stole a photo of the growing crowd as I walked back up the steps, but my stealthy moves with my large camera didn’t work. I was spotted and instead of capturing a good photo, I at least captured a piece of the memory.
The rest of the evening I just wandered, finding pieces of history down every street.
When I walked back to the metro in the dark, I could still hear the beating drums echoing behind me.