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Rome Day Two: Piazza Farnese, Coliseum, Forum, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain

Rome Day Two: Piazza Farnese, Coliseum, Forum, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain

Monday night, again I crossed the ancient Tiber, lights twinkling, via the Ponte Sisto to Rome’s equivalent of the Left Bank, Trastevere, where the Italians seem to be. The trattoria recommended by my apartment agent was closed, as he had feared (the city is just starting to wake up from its August vacation), so I settled into a Ristoranti Sabatini on the Piazza Trastevere and ordered osso bucco. Church bells rang as a lithe woman fire thrower was wiping the gas off her mouth before lighting and swirling two burning ropes over her head to much applause. An oddly compelling old gypsy crone standing against a wall next to a boom box moving her arms back and forth grabbed almost as much attention from passersby.

On my way home I finally bought a cherry gelato. When in Rome…and I am in Rome!

The morning started out with a look into the courtyard of the Palazzo Farnese, yet another magnificent piece of architecture sprung from the ego of a wealthy and powerful family; Michelangelo, whose fingerprints are all over Rome, helped with the design. I joined producer Marco Valerio Pugini for breakfast at a cafe on the Piazza Farnese. Panorama Films provide production services for big American productions shooting in Rome, from Angels and Demons to the HBO series Rome. The recession pinch is being felt here, too; Panorama is moving into producing their own films as well. Italy, like France, does not use Hollywood’s all-or-nothing, tentpole-or-micro approach. In these countries, modest budgets match modest market expectations. They don’t expect to fill their needs all over the world. There’s something to be said for starting local. The studios are throwing the baby out with the bathwater by cutting back their specialty divisions, which is one way to keep our low-budget production viable.

Rome photo gallery and diary continued below.

I’ve been meandering around Rome, unplugged. My BlackBerry has a French sim card but no data. Emails are strictly on my laptop. I can phone and text, that’s it. Most of the day the rest of America is asleep, anyway. Los Angeles doesn’t come online until about 5 PM, Rome time, which is when I head back to the computer.

Marco kindly dropped me at the Coliseum, which of course reminded me of how Ridley Scott’s Gladiator team re-created the Coliseum with the help of computer graphics, supplying the missing fourth level all the way around, and other missing elements such as the marble benches, etc. (There’s only one set of benches left, in photo.) Any American is gob-smacked the first time they hit Europe by how old everything is. But Rome is truly ancient, ghosts are everywhere, as you imagine what once was by looking at what’s left. Folks on the listening tour were fascinated: the hand-cranked elevators brought up stage scenery and wild animals caged below, to be picked off by hunters for the crowds’ amusement. When the audience got bored, the next theatrical entertainment was public executions such as throwing condemned prisoners to the lions. The Gladiator combat was the last, main attraction. The slaves were under five-year contracts; if they survived, they could go free. The guide made the point that the ancient Romans excelled at many things–empire building, making laws and aqueducts among them–but put no value on human life.

I wandered through the ruins of the massive Forum, past palaces of Vestal Virgins and Nero and a huge marketplace. Around the corner is the gigantic Monument to Vittorio Emanuele II, a spanking white relatively new early 20th century neo-classical structure adorned with much flying statuary. I far prefer, back in the central city, the Pantheon, a stunning huge dome with a circle of sky open at the top; once a place to worship all the Gods, it inevitably went Christian. The painter Raphael is buried there–many famous dead people are on display around this city, like a remarkably preserved Pope John XXIII (St. Peter’s Basilica). At the Piazza St. Ignazio I stopped at an outdoor restaurant for some juicy veal scallopini with peas, olives and mushrooms. Around me: a table of older French women engaged in lively debate; two young Scandinavian couples; and a group of pink-cheeked older Brits in hiking shoes.

The city is oddly quiet except for swarms of tourists descending on the big attractions like the Trevi Fountain of La Dolce Vita fame (clip below). Folks were throwing coins over their shoulders into the water for luck. The look-du-jour among young teen men: Justin Bieber hairdos. Tomorrow I take the train to Venice.

Marcello Mastroianni and Anita Ekberg in the famous Trevi Fountain scene from La Dolce Vita:

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