Italy, Day 21
(Spoiler Alert! You might want to start with Day 1 to follow this trip from the start!)
Tuesday officially marked three weeks into our trip and our last full day in Italy. I couldn't decide if I wanted the day to last forever or if it'd be easier to just rip it off quickly, like a bandaid that was no longer sensible to wear but that you'd grown attached to. (Wait, did I just compare our trip to Italy to a bandaid? Anywho...)
Fortunately, we had breakfast to distract us. We discovered Ginger in a local magazine a few days prior and were looking forward to it. We arrived at the restaurant in the middle of a promotional photo shoot, complete with models and hovering art directors and reflective umbrellas. With the addition of Zan capturing the moment it was a bit of breakfast / photography inception.
It rained through breakfast so we decided not to tour the Coliseum — or Colosseum — in wet conditions. After going back and forth to our room a few times that morning, we were reminded of how lucky we were to have a place with such a central location.
On our way to the Coliseum, we had our final lunch in Italy. It wasn't a fancy joint but it was nearby and recommended by our hosts in the stack o' business cards. We ordered broccoli gnocchi, a margarita pizza and washed it down with a bottle of prosecco and aqua frizzante. It was fresh and simple and amazing as usual and I was starting to think the bandaid might just have to stick with me a while longer...
During lunch a sinewy, compact little guy strolled in and picked up some knives from the kitchen. He brought them just outside the door, hopped on a custom bicycle and started pedaling and sharpening the knives simultaneously. Sounds a little unbelievable, I know, so that's why we (and every other tourist in a 10 mile radius) rushed to grab photo documentation of the unexpected site. See above. So there.
We had purchased our tickets to the Coliseum a couple days in advance so once the rain subsided it was time to take the scenic walk to the grounds. We passed by The Forum one last time, some groovy statues, fashion-challenged Eastern European tourists and our second sexy ferrari of the trip.
We could see the Coliseum from down the street and the crowds swelling around it's entrance. With our vouchers in hand, we were able to walk by hundreds of people wrapped all along the building and straight up to a teller to get our official tickets and enter the arena. This was one tourist tip I was glad we'd paid attention to. Grazie.
We passed through the ticket area, around a few columns and then stepped out into the arena. Not to be picky but (like they say about Sylvester Stallone) we kinda thought it'd be bigger. Don't get me wrong, the fact that is was still standing after a billion years (that's an exaggeration for all you school children using this blog as "research") and that it once held 75,000 spectators was very impressive... but, well, I'm just saying.
Anyway, what was more difficult to reconcile was being in a place where men and animals were brought to die for the amusement of the masses. I won't even mention trying to wrap my brain around this thought coupled with the gigantic cross that adorned the front entrance. Not even going to do the math on that one.
Inside the walls of the arena, we ascended a few sets of glute-toning steps and walked through an exhibition showing the Coliseum in all its glory. There were illustrations of how it once appeared fully intact and busts of famous Romans on display. Glass cases contained animal bones and fruit pits labeled as objects of consumption during the tailgating orgies that accompanied each battle. Perhaps more strange — nay, depressing — were the "accessories" used to apply make-up or adjust wigs worn by the women who dutifully primped before the festivities. Seriously ladies? Lions are clawing some poor soul to shreds and you're adjusting your curls and reapplying your lipstick? Guh.
After hours of sightseeing and a gelato stop, we made our way back to the apartment to shower and stop by the grocery store to buy wine for the evening's dinner with Stéphane's family.
When we arrived, Claudia performed an English song she learned earlier that day. Ah, yes, English — that language we used to speak once upon a dream... The oldest, Thomas, shared his hopes to sail around the world after high school and Marc recounted his adventures in Spain from the previous summer. It was the most fun I'd had sitting around a table with children since... well, since I was young enough to sit at the "kids' table" growing up. (That's supposed to be a compliment, not always sure how these things translate in writing.)
Dinner was wonderful, but then we'd come to expect nothing less after three days of being spoiled by our adopted French family from Rome. Conversation once again ran long and deep and it became clear that it was going to be hard to part with Stéphane. Somewhere around / after midnight we eventually tore ourselves away. It was an unexpectedly emotional goodbye, especially for Zan.
Had we really just reconnected with this boy / man that had been real to me only in stories shared at the dinner table over photo albums? Had it really been 25 years since all these stories took place? Was it already time to say goodbye to someone whose connection was so inextricably tied through Zan's mom, Jo.
It was sad on so many levels — saying goodbye to such a gracious host, a born teacher, a man in love with an extraordinary city, his adorable family. Saying goodbye to a dream-like three week trip to Italy, to so many things we'd just recently come to know but that already seemed normal, routine, natural... But also saying goodbye to Stéphane was saying goodbye to the past. To an old friend from a time in life when adulthood was still "future tense," a blurry, exciting mystery waiting off in the dark.
But we did, eventually, part ways. We walked arm and arm away from Stéphane for several moments before Zan finally broke the silence. "I didn't expect that to be so hard," he whispered. "Saying goodbye to him was like..."
"I know," I continued, "I already know what you're going to say..."
Saying goodbye to Stéphane was like saying goodbye to Jo all over again.
The trip, and all the memories shared over the last few days with Stéphane, brought the warmest thoughts of Jo bubbling back to the surface. Italy was about people and people were Jo's most favorite thing... To think of her vitality and curiosity and joy for exploring... her ability to listen and connect and give... how a room got brighter when she breezed in, how you became a better person for having been around her.
Yes, there was so much to learn and see and do. And yet, in the end, life was really about spending time with special people. Fortunately for us, Italy held both, in great abundance.