An excited hubbub fills the Piazza di Trevi. The air is cool, and suffuse with the smell of water. Beneath a dusky skyline, digital camera flashes reflect from the facade of the surrounding buildings. Some people hang in shop doorways, licking a gelato, others throng the steps down to the side of the basin, tossing coins and making wishes. Some wishes are trivial, others are borne of love and longing. More tourists flow into the square from the narrow alleyways, and asian salesmen mingle with the crowd, selling roses and ornaments. If the weather turns, minutes later they will be selling umbrellas. And there, like a mythic magma flow, the Trevi Fountain grows geologically outwards from the masonry of the Palazzo Poli.
This, then, is Rome. And it is fortunate indeed that modern Rome has inherited a history, archeology and architecture sans pareil, for Romans themselves are rude and arrogant, and their city is a manic, ill-tempered pit. Those who may feel disenchanted with their own locale would be well-advised to make the journey to Fiumicino aeroport et al, if only to be reminded of just how pleasant and tolerant their homeland really is.
I was ostensibly in Rome attending the 6th Eurachem Workshop on Proficiency Testing, and whilst I met a number of pleasant people from around the world, many of the delegates seemed unaware of the concept of manners, and I lost count of the number of times I was barged into, or my greeting was ignored. Eventually you begin barging back.
But the archeological remains are indeed remarkable. All the landmarks are intimately secreted within the very structure of the city, and the urban geometry is one of short-range interactions between the alleyways, piazzas, shuttered apartments, and historic remnants. The Colosseum cannot fail to impress, although as I gazed upon the scene of Russell Crowe's career highpoint, I was entertained to hear an amateur saxophonist playing I did it my way on the boulevard outside. A trip to the Vatican was also obligatory, and the panoply of illustrated rooms and corridors preceding the Sistine Chapel is most impressive. In the Chapel itself, however, I was surprised to see just how small a part the famous image of God reaching out to man plays in the overall frescoe.
On exiting the Chapel last Saturday morning, and walking round to the front of the Vatican, we were met by a motorcade of some sort, driving towards the Palace. A small crowd had gathered, and we laughingly suggested how remarkable it would be if it was the Pope. And, blow me down, it was the Pope! Old Ratzinger 'imself glided past in his Pope-mobile, a brolly held aloft to protect the Pontifical head from the highly materialistic drops of rain falling upon it.
But Rome, I was glad to leave.