Aaaahhhhhh!  Sitting down at last!

Well, I'm slowly getting used to this Photoshop thing. Here we all are, two dozen fresh-scrubbed wide-eyed wonders eating lunch across the street from a two-milennia-old towering crypt just outside town on the Appian Way.

Even with all the ruins in Rome, it sounds odd to say that we enjoyed a fine lunch near the tomb of Cecilia Metella, on what turned out to be yet another hot and humid day. The grad students were already swamped with work and hadn't had time to pack food for the all-day bus tour, so the undergrads (at Layne's urging) formed a spontaneous potluck from which the grads could assemble a mix of grub.

One student asked about the bottled water that seemed to be ubiquitous in Roman shops, and if its popularity meant that there was something wrong with the tap water -- and if so, what's up with all those wellspouts all over town that pour water into the streets nonstop 24 hours a day?

Our well-heeled tour guide, Jeffrey, explained that the tap water in Rome is just fine -- it's quite good as a matter of fact -- and that the Romans' fondness for bottled water has more to do with a sense of fashion than health reasons. In the case of large sculptural fountains such as the Fontana di Trevi, the water historically had as its source one of the great aqueducts, and therefore it was a matter of civic pride to present it to the people in grand style. The public wellspouts (which do not even appear to be built with on/off controls) found on various and numerous streetcorners are a lasting symbol of this tradition of presenting water to the people as a civic gift.

I wondered about an acronym I had seen on the fountains, as well as on churches and public buildings. The intials "SPQR" are found nearly everywhere in and around Rome. Jeffrey explained that the term "Senatus Populusque Romanus," or "The Senate and People of Rome," has been for nearly 2,500 years the legal stamp of the Roman bureaucracy, which is why it is engraved, sculpted, painted, and carved on just about anything official from the highest monument of the Empire to the stone gratings that divert storm water into the sewer system.

now inhabited by pigeons

As far as I could tell, the intials were not present on the brick fortress that once housed the remains of Cecilia Metella. One interesting note about her tomb, however, is the fact that she was, as much as it meant back then, an ordinary citizen rather than a political or religious leader. You know those empires, they love to build monuments to their idols. Cecilia Metella, however, was simply an average person -- although a wealthy one, judging from the imposing size of her mausoleum.
The Appian Way
To have a three- or four-story brick building constructed in your honor, without benefit of official title or sanction, is quite a feat even nowadays, and her final resting place next to the cobblestones of the old Appian Way was a fitting introduction to the larger, more official memorials we would encounter.

As far as I could tell, the initials SPQR were also not present on the coffee vending machine next to the catacombs. Yes, of course in Rome there would be a vending machine from which one can purchase coffee, tea, or hot chocolate. Why ask? I didn't. I simply inserted the coins and got a (very) small cup of (very sugary) hot chocolate and went on my way.

You who read this are doing so at an amazing leisurely pace. We had barely ten minutes to digest our lunch near the catacombs before the long trek by foot back to the tour bus...

We didn't have time to walk down into the catacombs today (already we were running later than scheduled), but went along Via Appia Antica, past the church of Domine Quo Vadis, where Peter on his way out of Rome faced an apparition of Christ ("Lord, Where Are You Going?"), which led Peter to return to the city and his martyrdom. Then we passed through a portal in the ancient walls that surround the city and back into Rome proper for a quick visit to San Giovanni in Laterano.

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