From inside the Colosseum, 2010.
I have a travel tradition of buying an original painting from an artist in the foreign city I’m visiting. I try to match the painting with the feeling the city evokes in me – my Sagrada Familia painting from Barcelona is made with the bright primary colors with which Antoni Gaudi painted the city itself. My picture from Prague (actually an original photograph) is of the city’s landmark Charles Bridge in mostly dark greens, black, and some faint golden light. My painting from Florence is in golds and rusty oranges like the color of the city’s duomo and Tuscany’s reddish-orange roofs. I don’t have a formula for picking the art I buy or the feeling I get from it, I just get whatever emotions the city calls up in me. And I don’t have one from every single foreign city I’ve visited because I have a rule for myself that I’ll only get an image if it shouts my perception of the ambiance of the city I’m in or feel I have to get it. Then I take it to get professionally framed (when I have the money or, recently, as Christmas presents to me from my parents). They then take up residence in my parents’ house to sit humbly in their basement until I (someday) (hopefully) have a place of my own to hang them. Sometimes, when I was living at home (the most recent stretch ended less than a month ago), on sleepless nights or nights when I felt particularly helpless, rudderless, and lost, I’d tiptoe into “my area” of the basement and look at those pictures. It’s as if I had to say to myself, “See? Here is proof there was once a time where you felt happy and alive (and not always just when you’re across an ocean!) with a future you had the privilege to choose.” Isn’t that one of the reasons we take pictures and buy souvenirs anyway?
But I don’t have one from Rome. Why, Erica? That makes no sense! You love Rome, and you’ve been here 7 million times! (My dad will tell you I can be prone to exaggeration, which might be true, especially here).
The Arch of Constantine with the Colosseum behind it, 2010.
Rome has always been so sacred to me, so brilliantly magnificent and flawed at the same time, that I have never been able to decide what I want my Rome painting to be or depict. The Vatican? The Pantheon, Piazza Navona, or the Spanish Steps? Palatine Hill? The Colosseum? Oh, but the Colosseum is so cliche. It is a symbol of one of the biggest travel cliches (for very good reason, I would argue!) along with the Eiffel Tower or the pyramids (and yes, Egypt, I’m hoping to meet you soon) or the Statue of Liberty.
But how I love the Colosseum. My laptop must have an upwards of 200 pictures I’ve taken of it through the years. I’ve said it before, but it’s true that it still sends a shiver down my spine when I first glimpse it walking around Rome.
I am well aware of its bloody past; the exotic animals fighting slaves and gladiators from all stretches of the Roman empire. I know about the mobs that called for more and more human sacrifice for sport and their viewing pleasure. I have stood before it and tried to imagine the sheer number of lives lost here in pursuit of entertainment.
From inside the Colosseum, 2008.
And yet I still love it. I love it as a symbol of Rome as a city that is still standing after thousands of years. To me, it is ruins of a once-great empire that is more beautiful than any gleaming new skyscraper in a burgeoning cosmopolitan city. The Colosseum and Rome itself are so comfortable in the seeming loss of their grandeur, in the beauty of their crumbling remains, that the world no longer regards these “tattered” structures as relics of failures and long-ago promise. The very wreckage that is a constant reminder of Rome’s fall(s) are also a testament to its staying power and ability to overcome. To overcome barbarians, to overcome wars, to overcome time, and even the ability to overcome the highest hurdle of them all – the flaws in itself.
I get that. In so many ways. And that’s what the Colosseum means to me.
I’ve finally decided what I want my Rome painting to be. I want a picture of the Colosseum with the ruins of the Roman Forum/Palatine Hill stretching out proudly in front of it.
Ruins of the Roman forum with the Colosseum in the background, 2016.
Years from now people may see my precious painting of Rome’s Colosseum and ruins and dismiss it as a cliched representation of one of the world’s most magnificent cities. Let them. I know it means so much more. I understand, the Colosseum understands, and Rome understands. That’s good enough for me.