Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Colosseum, scenes from the city

Water is the blood in the body that is Rome. The impressive Colosseum from inside. It is indeed an unrivalled architectural wonder from the outside too. It's true that Italians have a knack for decorating and presenting the most mundane in exquisite ways. Surely, everywhere I’ve been, I’ve seen people in dire need, but there are certain images that are emblazoned in my memory. From Rome, I’ll always carry two. At the top of the Spanish Steps, the entrance to the guilded Trinity Basilica: a woman supplicant, layers of grungy smelly clothes patched on to her frail body, legs folded under her, torso bent as in yoga’s child’s pose, forehead touching the cement step, but elbows bent upward wrapped tightly concealing her face, creviced hands, long blackened-nailed fingers clasped erectly over her head in prayer; in front, a small soiled basket with one Euro. How could she sit there for so long in that one unmoving position? Was she embarrassed? Was she hiding her face to maintain her integrity? Was she hurting? What had she done when she was young? Where did she sleep? Did she have anyone to love her? From inside the warmth of the Leonardo Express headed toward the airport, just as emerging daylight began to reveal gentle rain: an apparently unused and in much need of repair station; rows and rows of covered bodies lying neatly perpendicular on strips of cardboard against the wall, as if the collateral of war waiting to be shipped home; some, all dark-skin men, groggily stooping, or seating on their tiny piece of filthy cement, smoking for breakfast, exchanging clothes, washing faces out of bottled water—for the entire length of the station. Immigrants? Lonely? Hungry? Peddling all day and late into the night, perhaps some cheap trinkets, to hoards of tourists? Loved ones in distant Chinese, African and Latin American hut homes? Sons and daughters waiting for the monthly hard-earned dribble of money that will keep them alive? Even after accumulating quite a retinue of such memorable scenes, I’m usually uncomfortable, unsure of how to feel. I am, however, certain of one thing: the relative wealth I am fortunate to have is not an entitlement; it is, absolutely, a responsibility and a command to notice, remember and do something about inequity in the world. The back of the huge Villa Borghese where inside the varied collection of art is almost as stunning as the Sistine Chapel. Below, one of the pieces in their vast collection: "Madonna con Bambino" by Pompeo Batoni, ca. 1742.

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