Stepping out into the languid Italian air, my sister and I breathed deeply the exhaust fumes of Rome. We were like veteran hunters searching for Bambi. Armed with our trusty imported bottled water from Wisconsin and our free hotel’s map, we were ready to tour. Our mission, which we chose to accept, was to search and destroy an item off our list of Italian attractions. The initial victim of our tourist coup d’tat was the Roman Coliseum.
The first obstacle we encountered outside our hotel was the river of clown cars’ and mini-motorcycles. The blur of cars whizzed past us in a dizzy dance of death. We were amazed at the sheer bravado of people, who calmly stepped off the curb and proceeded unscathed through the traffic. Caught up in a wave of impatient bystanders, we found ourselves on the other side of the street.
We both looked up for the corner street signs only to be bitterly disappointed. My sister scanned the street for any post or marker.
“Where are we?” She backed farther away from the curb as a Vespa zipped past a little too closely. What does the map say?”
I unfolded the map and examined it. “The map says we are in Vatican City, but we just crossed the street from our hotel near the Piazza Venezia.” Scrunching up the map, I tossed it into the garbage can. “Free doesn’t get you much now-a-days.” To distract my sister, I pointed excitedly to our left. Mesmerized into a trance, I walked over to the crumbling structure. My heart began to beat faster. I tried to gather the words to express to my sibling I had found the end of our search and so quickly, too.
Breathless, I faced her and declared with all of my limited professional experience, “This is the Coliseum!”
My sister stood in awe. Keeping a hand on her sun hat, she tilted her head back to get a better view. We were silent in our mutual adoration.
“You know what, it sure looks different.” My sister’s brow furrowed as she thought about it.
Still in awe of my discovery, I decided to pander to my unenlightened sibling. “Of course, it looks different. It’s old for goodness sake!”
She turned toward me and pushed her hat forward to shield her eyes from the sun. “What I mean is, isn’t it suppose to be circular and bigger?”
“Well, it has been a long time. I think I heard part of it had fallen down.” My words virtually patted her head in sympathy.
“No, I really don’t think this is the Coliseum.” She stated this firmly.
“Fine, I’ll prove it.”
“How,” she asks.
I surveyed the scene. “There must be a sign or something.” Spying a metal plaque attached to the fence, I marched over to it. I mumbled to myself about how foolish she’d feel when I’d be proven right. The sign was written in Italian. I knew enough of the language to decipher the message.
“What does it say?” My sister peered over my shoulder.
Sheepishly, I replied, “It says these are the Imperial Forums built by Julius Caesar.” I swiveled around to her. “It’s an honest mistake! Everything looks the same!” Looking around me, I noticed spires peeking from behind the Victor Emmanuel. “Over there, that’s the Coliseum.”
“You mean the wedding cake monument, the Piazza Venezia?”
“No, the one behind it,” I insist, feeling desperate.
“I don’t remember any spires in any pictures of the Coliseum.”
“It can’t be that hard to find a giant monument in the middle of the city.” I was beginning to become disheartened about ever finding finishing our quest.
My ears perked up to the boisterous sounds of family sharing. Spying casually over my shoulder, I noticed a typical American family enjoying each other and the sights. The children were whining about food in the midst of pounding each other senseless. The mother desperately tried to the ring the bell for the end of round three, while simultaneously yelling for the father to take their picture. The beleaguered father braved the dangers of on-coming traffic as he tried to capture the picture. The photograph would present a happy threesome in front of a scenic sight, while the reality would be thankfully erased from posterity.
I smiled with relief at this familiar territory of the classic family sitcom. Years of reruns had prepared me for this moment. I was at home even though I was an ocean away from all that was typical.
I indicated to my sister the family drama unfolding a few feet from front us. “Come on, we can ask them where the Coliseum is!”
“But they’re strangers!”
I ignored her obvious plea for rationality. Like a gladiator, I approached my prey determined to be the victor in my tourist mission. My sister stayed a safe distance behind me.
“Excuse me, we were wondering where the Coliseum is?” I asked.
“Melanie and Kelly, will you stop it. Fred, I told you we should have never taken them. Will you just try to pretend to like each other?” The mother pushed back her teased and bleached hair and wearily looked my way. “I think the Coliseum is down there.” She vaguely pointed in a direction in front of us.
“Well, thanks for the directions. We’ll be going now.” I offered as I tip toed away.
Heading in the direction indicated by our brief tour guides, we forged on with our search. It had become hotter. The morning dew had evaporated off the streets as the hours moved into lunch time. Our backs were becoming more heavy as the heat beat down upon us.
“I’m getting tired, do you want to stop?” My sister complained.
“No, we must keep moving. Drink some water, but don’t stop and rest, or you’ll be doomed.”
“Just go on without me.”
I paused and grabbed her shoulders and shook her. “It’s just the heat talking, snap out of it. Remember our family’s motto: we don’t leave till the last tour bus pulls out.”
She mustered up the remaining reserves of her energy that the heat hadn’t zapped. Marching forward with renewed fervor, her determination ignited the desire to outwit useless maps and her inept tour guide of sister and find our Holy Grail. I raced to catch up with her striding form. Stopping abruptly, my sister rooted her feet.
I slammed into her. “Hey, why did you stop?”
With a hushed and pious tone, she declared, “It’s the Coliseum.”
“What — ” Slowly my eyes upturned as I viewed the awesome structure before me. The massive amphitheater built to seat thousands of people glimmered in the sunlight. I heard the muses singing the glory of the eighty arches, and its amazing feats of engineering. Mythical fireworks exploded, along with a rousing standing ovation in honor of our discovery. Then again, the fanfare I heard and saw could have just been hallucinations due to my rapid dehydration.
“This is it.” I breathlessly exclaimed.
Smiling, my sister turned to me. “Are you positive this time?”
I laughed and said. “Well, it’s big, old and… “
“circular,” she finished.
We stood and marveled silently. After our solemn devotion concluded, we commenced the exploration of the monument. We took mental pictures and compared the reality to the data we had been taught in school. The conclusion resulted that the real and present was larger and had much more vibrant Technicolor compared to the textbook illustrations.
Taking a deep breath, my sister said at last, “Let’s find a postcard to send back home.”
I winked at her. “But remember, we’ve got to find one that has the real Coliseum on it.”