After seeing the Colosseum, I didn't think I'd see anything more breathtaking. I could have left Rome that day feeling like I'd seen everything that needed to be seen. Unless, of course, Andy Whitfield himself had strutted out onto the platform wearing nothing but those weird tan Gladiator diapers and a shield and screamed "I am Spartacus!" But I knew that wasn't going to happen because he was in New Zealand battling non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and for that, he doesn't need a sword.
As we walked away from the Colosseum, I couldn't stop looking back. Cayden seemed to be having the same problem.
"I still can't figure out how they built that thing," Cayden said, shaking his head in amazement.
I stared through the arches, pleased I could picture what was on the other side. Had I chosen art instead of journalism as a major so many years ago, I would have whipped out an easel and painted the whole damn thing right then and there. I finally understood why I always saw people wearing berets and standing behind easels with a paintbrush in their mouths and an inquisitive look on their faces in foreign movies or movies with scenes in foreign countries. There's just something beautiful there that you feel like you have to sit down and capture. If only I'd brought fingerpaints.
Once we stepped out of the magical orb surrounding the Colosseum, reality came rushing back. I suddenly remembered the tearing pain in the sides of my legs, the throbbing in my feet, the pulsing ache in my lower back. When had I turned 95 years old, anyway?
I linked my arm through Cayden's and he smiled down at me. He knew I was using him as a crutch, but he didn't mind lending a bulky arm for his sweet little damsel in distress.
"Fuck!" I yelled as I turned my ankle on a cobblestone. Cayden steadied me before I ate it. OK, so maybe damsel wasn't the right word.
"Are you OK?" he asked, trying to decide if it was OK to laugh.
Unless I have a bone jutting out of my jeans, it's OK to laugh. And even then, as long as I'm in shock and not in pain, it's OK to laugh.
"I saved you, baby!" he laughed, and then stubbed his own foot on an uneven stone.
I didn't stop to question if it was OK to laugh. Either did he.
We stopped to admire the Arco di Tito, the Arch of Titus, which we'd seen through the arches from inside the Colosseum.
We only had a few seconds to admire it before we were swarmed by sketchy, pushy vendors selling sunglasses and camera tripods and weird gooeey balls that you slam down on the ground and they flatten into pancakes. I have to admit, I was intrigued by the gooy pancake balls. Oh, and I hadn't brought sunglasses, but I didn't want to give my money to the sketchy vendors. I'd rather find a cute shop and buy them from a local Italian shopkeeper.
We dodged the vendors and then walked along the narrow sidewalk to find the ruins we'd spotted from the top level of the Colosseum. We didn't know what they were, but we wanted to see them up close.
We stopped to join a crowd gathered around a man making a painting with paper plates and cans of spray paint.
"What do you think he's making?" I asked, but I didn't expect an answer. Cayden didn't give one. We just stood silently as he spray painted black paint across the canvas and then pressed newspaper against the wet black paint. He yanked the newspaper up to reveal designs where the black pain was missing.
We must have stood there for 10 minutes without saying a word until the man accidentally knocked over one of the spray pain cans on the paining and it rolled across the canvas before he could catch it, ruining his masterpiece. That was our cue to leave.
"There it is," Cayden said, pointing ahead of us.
I looked up from my aching feet and swollen ankles to see a close up of what we'd seen from afar. It was incredible. It reminded me of when kids would play with stacking blocks at the dentist's office and build these elaborate structures and then their pain-in-the-ass ADHD younger brother would swing one arm to destroy the masterpiece in a matter of seconds. One block would end up near the reception desk, another under a row of seats in the waiting room, the rest scattered around the young architect.
I couldn't put the pieces back together in my head, but I was sure they would have built something beautiful. I pictured the House of Batiatus from Spartacus with it's tall columns and long, shallow pools. (And yes, I'm highly aware that I'm obsessed with a raunchy TV show.)
"What's that?" I asked Cayden, pointing to a huge white building on the top of a hill to our right.
"No idea. Let's get closer."
We held hands and swung our arms like little kids as we moved on to the next must-see. The closer we got to the big, white building, the bigger our eyes got.
"Jesus! It's fucking huge!" I said.
"It's incredible!" he said.
We walked along the gate and stopped to press our faces against the cold metal bars.
"Can we go in?" I asked, and then we spotted an opening in the gate with a guard standing by.
"We can try," Cayden said, pulling me to the opening.
We walked through without being stopped. And for the second time that day, we were without words.
****Note: I have since identified the building as the Vittorio Emanuele II Monument built by Guiseppe Sacconi beginning in 1895. But I will probably still refer to it as "that big-ass white building."