I was glad I did my research before my trip so I knew the Pantheon and the Parthenon were two very different things. But before I said either one, I had to stop myself and think. I didn't want to say the wrong one and sound like an idiot. Sort of like the way I avoid the word "circumstances" because I'm always afraid I'll say "circumcises." How embarrassing.
Anyway, we were making impressive progress on our Tourist To Do List, which is funny because before we left we both said, "Let's not do the touristy things. Let's see how the locals live." Day one we said, "OK, let's not do any touristy things except for the Colosseum." Day two it turned into, "Well, we can't go to Rome and not see [insert any Roman landmark, whether significant or not]." We had to live up to the music. We were tourists.
I was excited to see the Pantheon because of how Doerr had described it. He described how peaceful it was, and how he sat on a bench for the longest time just staring up through the opening at the top of the dome. Someone told him that the most beautiful thing in the world is to see a single snow flake fall through the opening.
It wasn't quite cold enough for snowflakes (thank god) but Cayden and I wanted to check it out anyway. Besides, we couldn't go Rome and NOT see the Pantheon, right?
It was impressive from the outside, with it's enormous columns that seemed to triple in width every time I took a step closer, but the inside is what got me. Or, rather, the view of the outside from the inside. My eyes were fixed on that perfectly round hole in the very center of dome. I couldn't take my eyes off that hole and the clouds beyond it. Cayden walked around, shaking his head and mumbling, "How did they build this thing? There is literally nothing holding it up."
Two birds stopped and hovered, dead center in the hole, their wings spread wide. They just dangled there, like twos dove charms on a thin chain necklace. I scrambled for my camera, careful not to take my eyes off the birds. I knew if I looked away, they'd disappear.
"Cayden, look," I said, trying to stay quiet so I wouldn't scare the birds off, even thought they were at least 150 feet above me. I held my camera up to my face and took my eyes off the birds just long enough to see them on my preview screen and then they were gone.
"Look at what?" Cayden asked.
"Birds. There were birds in there," I said. It was almost like they were posing for the camera, but then they flew off before I could take the picture."
We both looked up and stood in silence. After ten seconds, Cayden shrugged and walked away.
"So, the Pantheon is temple for all of the gods," he was saying as he stopped to look at a statue embedded in a carved out portion of the wall. "And I think it's still used as a church today."
Apparently the Pantheon had turned Cayden into a tour guide and me into a bird watcher. On the other side of the circular room I saw long wooden benches, or pews. My feet were still soaked and throbbing, so the benches were calling my name.
Cayden saw me head for a bench and he followed close behind. Cayden sat first, and then I lay down on my back with my head in his lap. I had a perfect view of the opening (or, the oculus if we want to get technical). One bird came back, hovering dead center.
"There!" I said, pointing skyward while I tried to switch my camera into capture mode with the other hand.
By the time I hit the button, the bird was gone again.
"Babe," Cayden said, running his hand through my hair. "I don't think you'll be able to capture it in a photo. They're too fast."
I held my camera up in front of my face, pointed toward the oculus. I waited. And waited. My arms started to shake. I suddenly remembered the time I dropped my phone on my face at the dentist when I was trying to text my sister with the laughing gas mask on my face.
"There!" Cayden said, and I hit the button. The bird flew across the oculus before my camera registered the click. Cayden was probably right: It was impossible. But I wasn't going to let that stop me.
Twenty minutes later, my finger was twitching and I had a memory card full of empty oculuses (oculi?). It was time to throw in the towel.
"Want to go grab a drink?" Cayden asked. I dropped the camera to my chest and sighed, defeated.
"Of course I do," I said.
I swung my legs off the bench and sat upward in one smooth motion. The second my feet touched the ground, I winced. You would have thought walking on layered socks, foam inserts, and gel inserts would have felt like walking on a Tempurpedic Mattress or angel food cake (same consistency), but instead I felt like how Cinderella would have felt like if she really had to wear glass slippers. Think about it. There was a reason she ditched one.
I was going to need more than one drink, that was for sure.