Roberto was more than generous in welcoming me into the apartment he and Ellen had finished remodeling just before the end of the year holidays. All the more so since the day I arrived his sister was taken to the ER, and she succumbed the next day. Despite all the emotional and administrative stresses that this dumped on him, Roberto made time to show me amazing restaurants and sites, and taste fine Roman cuisine and Italian wines - to the point that last night, he, myself, and his son Alex who'd flown in from New York, overdid it far beyond the capacities of our digestive tracks... Still, the night and today's discomfort have no comparison to the violent spasm that overtook me suddenly Monday morning and kept me seriously incapacitated for over 24 hours. But Life goes on as it does after each spasm thus far.
|Piazza di San Pietro, Vatican - note the beautiful wedge shaped building right of the dome|
Every time I walk Rome I am in complete ecstasy over the quality of the work performed by humans two millennia ago. Yesterday Roberto led us inside the Pantheon and explained that the dome, possibly the largest antique dome in the world stretching 120 feet in diameter, "undressed" with extremely geometric and regular alveoli to lighten the load, is made of an ancient form of concrete that shows no indication of ageing despite its two thousand years of age!
More modern but no less impressive is the large section that was rebuilt of the gigantic Coloseum, allegedly with original bricks. And if we are to get modern, the high-tech systems put in place to retain some of the antique structures while the Metro is being expanded are wildly impressive - to the point in fact that one cannot be any less curious about the costs of preservation, and at what point one decides to preserve or let age. I wonder what Boston politicians and officials from the Mass. Bay Transit Authority (which doesnt even manage to properly maintain our badly ailing subway system) would think were they to visit such sites of modern work.
Emilia, long time friend and former Boston University Physicist now turned politician (currently Vice Mayor of Rome) also took time for a drink and gave me a quick (albeit frightening) tour of the city by night on her motorino (scooter). Her description of Rome's politics had many reminiscences with those of Cambridge, with money pouring into campaign funds from large interest groups. But more than that, a recent major shake-up has left the city without a Mayor "impeached" by the vague equivalent of the City Council, which was in turn forced to resign because of the marginally legal manner in which they had proceeded to overthrow the American-trained former surgeon.
|A street ends on a cliff being excavated|
Influenced by such a political climate, and timing with the year of the Jubilee, the streets of Rome are littered and filthy, and a disproportionate number of magnificent buildings are tarped as if awaiting the completion of renovation works that may never come through, or at the very least are extremely unlikely to be completed by the end of the Jubileum. I had never found so much direct similarity with the dysfunctional aspects of Rio de Janeiro. But then again, Southern Brazil has been heavily colonized by Italians.
Chaotic politics stand all the more in contrast with the survival of so many delicate and gigantic ruins of ancient civilization, and in Rome they are everywhere. I remember stopping in a bar twenty or so years ago, along a small piazza paved with cobblestones, just as a utility crew was setting out to dig up a clogged pipe. By the time I'd finished my coffee (leisurely, all'italiana i.e. close to an hour), the area had been cordoned off by the "archaeological preservation authority" because just below the paving stones, the crew had encountered some unexpected relics. Everywhere one looks, every place one digs, there are objects among the oldest of human civilization.
But the question I asked earlier remains in my mind: at what point does one decide that something is worth preserving? Is it not presumptuous for humans to do everything in our power to preserve ancient objects, in fact I extend that to species of plants and animals? We have developed faster than any species preceding us, at least as far as we know. We've also managed to do irreversible "damage" (I believe) to the natural environment in a record short time. And yet our knowledge base is infinitesimal on the time scale of natural history. We often say that "resistance to change" is a serious shortcoming. But as we aim to preserve "everything" the way we have known it in just three or four short generations, are we not doing exactly that?
We are selfish for wanting to slow climate change because we fear the consequences that it will have on us. We want to save dolphins, seals, Canadian Geese, deer, wolves, and bears in areas where we find them unthreatening or because they are "cute", all anthropocentric judgments. Yet just like us, they are part of Nature in its largest sense, and just like every Natural Thing, their existence is finite in time. I have at least two friends who plan to live well over 100 years of age and still be in good health, thanks to advances in some very high tech processes involving biomechatronics and other disciplines that I don't even remember the names of, but even they are finite.
|Sections of columns unearthed lie in a park|
|A huge concrete base and a high-tech retaining system|
(almost as large as the section being preserved...)
|Columns were patched up over|
the centuries; notice they rest on brickwork
As I meditate next to titanic columns of granite mixed with other material, presumably to patch them up over the last two thousand years, I cannot help but to feel very thankful for living both of my lives, yet presumptuous for thinking that any of my acts, or the sum of those of all of humankind, could somehow change the fact that our species is doomed just as are all species, and for hesitating to trust that Nature (or God?) "knows Its way" in Time.
With this I am taking in more deep breaths of Air, of Life, and I wish for humanity to find a humble harmony in its finiteness.
|An ocra and a white facade contrast|
|The Foro seen from above and looking|
towards Palazo Venezia
|Palazzo Venezia towering above the Foro|