Bread and Circuses
I biked by the Circus Maximus trying to find a church that had a Mithraic shrine in an underground area. Rome has so much history that the present seems barely able to wedge itself in between the monuments and ruins.
This stadium was used for chariot races and other “entertainments.” It is massive…it held 150,000 people. At first it was used for ludi (the word ludic means “of or referring to play”), which were religious festivals sponsored by rich sponsors in honor of their favorite God. You’d get some love from the people, some status and some favor among the deities all at the same time. In 167 BC, one was held that included 63 leopards and 40 bears and elephants. A century later, the emperor Probus had one staged that included a beast hunt through an artificial forest. Hunger Games for real…though the gladiatorial competitions we know from movies tended to be held at the Colosseum.
The phrase “bread and circuses” originated here: it refers to the tendency of politicians to create diversions by which they seek approval and are judged, rather than by their civic accomplishments. The wonderful first Tropicália record is called “ou Panis et Circensis.” It was made under a military dictatorship.
The church with the shrine I was seeking closed just as I got there: 12-3 P.M. is their lunch break….as it is for a lot of Italian monuments and businesses. I liked the fact that under a church was a working shrine for worshipping a Persian (Iranian) God.
I stopped by the MAXXI contemporary art museum, and amongst other things there was an exhibit about the folks who designed the fast food places on the Autostrade known generically as the Autogrills, though there are other brands too. The idea of traveling on a modern highway was exciting at the time—a way of participating in the future—and these fantastically designed rest stops reinforced those ideas and feelings.
I remember the first time I stopped at one of these, many years ago, I thought the food was actually pretty good. They stocked local, regional specialties and the pasta was way better than what you’d get at many American restaurants at the time.
In the same exhibit were board games of the time, put out by the gas company Eni, that modeled their own cutting edge ideal city—“Metanopoli”—one that combines cars, tall buildings, modernist architecture and oil wells. Kind of like SimCity, but with more fossil fuels and cars. The name means “methane city.”
Posters of Putin are plastered up here and there around town. It seems the Northern Alliance and the National Front—both right wing parties that one might compare to the Tea Party in the U.S. (and who supported Berlusconi)—have now switched their allegiance to Putin, what with his suppression of human rights and outlawing of “homosexual propaganda.” The picture of him in his furry military drag says it all.
Our concert is here:
It’s a futuristic complex designed by Renzo Piano of three concert halls of different sizes. They sit like giant beans on a brick plaza, part of which wasn’t finished because—as often happens in Rome—they found ruins when they started to dig. The past takes precedence over the present (I’m not complaining, it’s just a fact).
Our show met a receptive audience. Lots of fun. Was it here that I had to stop the show and publicly shame a woman for taping the whole show on her iPad? Maybe it was. She was in the third row, and though I don’t prohibit photos or videotaping with phones and such, singing to this silver rectangle song after song got to be a bit distracting and annoying. She put it down, but it reappeared during the encores. By that point, no one cared.
Jon Natchez and I biked back to our hotel after the show—the bike lane takes us right through St. Peter’s Square on the way to our hotel. It was sort of surreal.
The next show was in Firenze (Florence) and it would be the last show on our tour. It was at the Teatro Verdi—an old opera house. The great thing about the design of such halls is that everyone is seated pretty close. There are numbers without sacrificing intimacy. Rather than folks on the balconies being further and further away in these places they’re just higher and higher, but they can still see everything fairly well.