The Corner

Roman Holiday (Cont.)

No, once again we failed to see Apollo & Daphne. The Borghese only lets in 90 people per half hour, and you have to get there early in the morning if you want a ticket. Getting into the city early, with two kids to organize, isn’t a trick I’ve mastered.

Still, the kids have seen the big sights & been walked off their poor little feet. They’ll go back to the States with, at a minimum, some strong associations attached to the word “baroque,” and knowing that Michelangelo is not just the name of a ninja turtle. With a bit more luck they’ll remember the difference between baroque and rococo, and the names of Raphael and Bernini. You have to expose kids to this stuff, explain as much as you can, and hope that something sticks. It’s uphill work getting anything into their silly heads of course, but you have to do your best. Right now we’re back in the hotel, and they’re watching the Scooby Doo movie in Italian.

Don’t they mind it’s being in Italian? “No, we know the words.” Right.

I’m surprised at how well I’m coping in Italian, never having studied the language. School Latin gets you a good way into it, and years of browsing opera librettos helps with the aspettis and andiamos. My accent’s all wrong though, I’m told. I seem to have got it fixed in my mind that Italians talk like characters in Godfather movies. In fact, that’s a regional style – Romans don’t use their phonemes like that at all. Again, though, it’s nice to demonstrate for your kids that a capable grown-up should at least take a stab at speaking the language of any country he finds himself in.

I still find Rome unlovable. As a self-described reactionary, I suppose I shouldn’t mind the ankle-twisting cobblestones, the lack of modern buildings, the flocks of tinny motorbikes, the crappy or nonexistent public services, the general air of a country just emerging from Third World status; but I do. The ticket clerk at Ponte Mammolo station this morning (a rare case of a ticket booth with someone actually in it) could not make six euros change from a ten euro bill; I had to go to a store and get change.

There was a machine, but I hadn’t been able to persuade it to take my bill.

For goodness’ sake – the Romans can’t run a city? The Romans? Well, they can’t. Standing on line for the Vatican museum, we were looking across the street at walls covered in graffiti. Outside the Anglosphere, self-government is an art not much cultivated, and success is patchy.

I’ll say this, though: the weather is lovely. Everyone told me that Rome is unbearable in August. Not so: the last two days have been pure California – far more bearable than the Long Island we left. So why do the locals all flee the city in August? To avoid us snotty, hypercritical foreigners, perhaps.

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