Sunday, April 23, 2017

Several columns for the price of one

Piazza Colonna, Rome.

     Computers are such an integral part of our lives now, I don't know why I'm slightly embarrassed to admit that among the joys of coming home Saturday-- seeing the house still standing, scooping up the ecstatic dog at a neighbor's—was sitting in front of my smoking hot, souped-up iMac, touch-typing and no longer having to navigate the world on the molasses-dripping-from-a-stick-in-winter modem speeds found at 19th century apartments in Rome and Venice and small hotels in Florence and Paris.
     Old school, I suppose, an echo of the scorn we used to feel for computer nerds and their Tandy motherboard projects sent away for from an ad in the back of Popular Mechanics. 
     I immediately went back and posted pictures over the past week's worth of posts, which had seemed blank, inadequate, without illustrations. It was frustrating, not being able to share photos. I had got a week's worth of posts to run, and then planned to just toss up an interesting picture and a few words: how cool it is, for instance, that the sewer covers in Rome feature the initials "S.P.Q.R"—"Senātus Populusque Rōmānus," "The Roman Senate and People," the same acronym carried into battle by centurions 2,000 years ago and found on ancient Roman coins. Well, cool to me anyway.
Marcus Aurelius's column
      Our hotel in Rome was a few blocks from Piazza Colonna, the square dominated by Marcus Aurelius's column, which we passed every night hurrying to our favorite gelato spot, Giolitti's. The square around it was blocked off and patrolled by soldiers—the valid fear, I suppose, being that somebody will ram a truck into the 1,800-year-old pillar, with its winding face telling of the victories of the emperor, famed for this "Meditations." 
      The column is one of the many based on Trajan's column in the Roman Forum. I figured, I would toss up the photo with some glib line, "Here's your column for today." Given the Romans had the technological ability to build the thing with chisels and ropes, it seemed perverse, in our modern age, not to be able to upload a picture of it.  
      Articles on such columns invariably note that it can be difficult to ascertain how much of the stories depicted on the columns are fact, how much propaganda, and that had a familiar ring to it. Donald Trump didn't invent lying about your accomplishments.
     Jump forward about ten days, and we were meeting our son in Place Vendome, in Paris, to go to lunch. There, I should have known but didn't, is found what at first struck me as yet another copy of Trajan's column, except in bronze. Luckily we had a few minutes to kill, and I went in for a closer look. Not a copy at all, except in concept. Rather, it is a completely different spiral narrative, this one celebrating Napoleon's victory at Austerlitz.  
     A reminder that, when doing a column, it's all too easy just to imitate somebody else's column.  
Place Vendome, Paris.



  1. "Well, cool to me anyway." :-)

    When I was in Italy (so many years ago) the SPQR manhole covers were way cool. Then, one day we pulled off the Autostrada for a picnic and walked down a small road marked "Via Appia Antica" and I realized I was walking on the same road the Roman soldiers took from Rome to Brindisium. Time happens all at once; only sometimes do we get to see that.

  2. My Latin teacher told us 50 years ago that if we ever got to Rome we'd see S.P.Q.R. everywhere. I finally got there, and saw it, among other places, on a sign for a dog park.

  3. I also, visiting Europe, like rubbing up against antiquity. Viewing structures "dumb, as old medallions to the thumb" but also speaking of past days if you have taken the trouble to learn their provenance.

    I didn't notice the computer response times being markedly slow in my little hotel in Florence, but don't, in that respect, have Neil's needs. That said, many things move at a slower pace in Europe, particularly in the south, which you have to adjust to if you live there. But the people, when you get to know them, turn out to be much the same everywhere.



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