Rome II: Crime, Castles, Texas, etc.

Micah Osler, copy editor

Loyal readers: for the next several days, I’ll be in Rome, doing stuff and probably eating, too. This is where I’ll write about stuff I did and also, probably, stuff I ate. There will most likely also be anecdotes about my inability to learn even basic Italian and the loudness of mopeds.
It took me a while, but I finally realized that I could just use an online converter to change the incomprehensible (to me, anyways) metric measurements that are ubiquitous around here into units I understand.

Having done so, let me just say: man, civil engineers here are oblivious.

I went for a run yesterday evening by the banks of the Tiber, and the signs there said that the speed limit was 10 km per hour. That’s about 6 mph, or 10-minute miles, which is absurdly slow. So, technically, I was speeding. What was even weirder, though, was that I was running on a bike path. Seriously, unless you have absolutely exceptional balance, I don’t think you can even ride a bike at 6 mph without falling off.

Also, there was a car driving on the bike path. I don’t know how it got there, since the only way down is along some wildly uneven marble stairs, but it didn’t look like a government car or any other sort of car that had any reason to be down there – it was just a normal (for Italy) Smart car driven by an incredibly confused-looking man. It was also going very fast.

I doubt that guy’s going to get arrested, though – the police in Rome seem to have much larger things to worry about. Right near our apartment is an anti-Mafia police squad (it says so on the sign).  They seem to be doing a pretty good job – all their squad cars are fancy BMWs that I’m almost certain they seized from mobsters.

Also near our apartment is a slightly older Roman protection system – the Castel Sant’Angelo. It’s a gigantic castle that looks like the hodgepodge it is – it was built in the 2nd century C.E. and has had tons of additions since then. Earlier today, my family walked over there in the surprisingly threatening Roman rain to take a look around.

The first thing I noticed was something I’ve been seeing all over – a sort of weird and seemingly random flexibility to ticket prices. We ended up paying half of what we were supposed to, even though the ticket guy didn’t speak English and nobody in our family spoke Italian. Maybe we accidentally said we were war refugees or the Pope’s long-lost third cousins or something.

Inside, it was just about as cool as the fact it’s a giant freaking castle would suggest. The floors were wildly uneven (because they dated from the time of the Roman empire), but living in the Magical Land of Potholes has made watching my step for gaping chasms second nature.

From what I could tell, Hadrian actually was a pretty good guy. I mean, sure, he hated us filthy backwards Celts enough to build a gigantic wall to enclose us (a feat later repeated with terrible CGI in the Guy Ritchie film Doomsday), but y’know, he loved his kids and seemed like a pretty decent dad. Of course, the only evidence I have of him being a decent dad is the incredibly sad epitaph he wrote to his son that’s hanging inside the wall of his castle, but the mere fact he owned a castle probably made his kids pretty happy.

Once we ascended the awesome spiral ramp thing that looked like it was from Mario Kart and got to the upper levels, the weird bifurcated nature of Rome became all the more apparent. Essentially, the whole city’s one big pagan temple that was co-opted by the Catholic Church. The Castel Sant’Angelo is a pretty egregious example of this – plastered onto the top of the castle is an old papal residence. For some reason that’s entirely beyond me, the most important feature of the castle seemed to be the Pope’s bathroom. The sign noted that it was one of the largest bathrooms of the Renaissance. Considering that the thing, from the outside, looked like it was approximately the size of a broom closet, I have concluded that I am glad I wasn’t alive during the Renaissance.

Right near the Papal bathroom was a sign pointing down into the depths of the castle. It promised “Prisons/Oil Reserves”. Having lived in Texas for ten years, we’d already seen enough of those, so we kept going.

Eventually, we reached the top of the castle. It was pretty incredible. Rome doesn’t have a skyline – it’s too old for that – so when I’m walking around the narrow cobblestone streets, it’s hard to get a feel for the scale of the place. Seeing it from the air, though – that was something else. When you see a city like that from above, it seems like it’s opening itself to you for the first time – like you’ve been hearing people quote a book for years and years and finally just get around to reading it. Everything’s laid out before you, and the tight alleyways that seem like they’re stealing your breath become nothing more than tiny lines dwarfed by the tree-lined hills that hem the buildings in, and it’s then that the city becomes enchanted.