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In Rome, we became ornery. Something about the physics of the place, the Rise and the Fall, grated at us. We wandered cobbled streets, sluggish in the heat. Our feet were gritty with ancient dust, and our minds were elsewhere, away from this crumbling metropolis.

At the Trevi Fountain, American tourists dipped sun-swollen hands into cold fountain water while a man selling toy laser lights from a satchel sprinted from a whining police car. In the Forum, we were so thirsty, we bought plastic bottles of water for 8 euros apiece from a vending machine behind the Arch of Titus. And under the shade of an olive tree, whose leaves flickered in the hot breeze, my son told us he thought Virgil's Aeneid might be a first example of imperial propaganda. As he spoke, the collapsing columns of the Temple of Venus watched over us like scarecrows.

This was the end of our trip, and we keened towards home, towards that place where the heat and the ghastly prices and the lack of water, the imperial decay were at least in our language.


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