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Friday 24th October 2003

If I could live at any other place and time than here and now (and here and now would actually be my first choice. I think we are possibly the luckiest generation of human beings ever, possibly luckier than the generations that are to come), I would like to live in Ancient Rome. This naturally comes with the condition that I wasn't a slave or a pauper. I'd like to be one of the well off fellas with a nice toga and a fresh laurel wreath, who spent most of his time eating larks' tongues and being waited on by Numibian beauties.
Although I am sure I am romanticising the Roman Empire, I still feel that Rome, at its height, must have been an amazing place to live. And life seemed to be dedicated to happiness (as long as you didn't have a conscience about your happiness being dependent on the misery of slaves and the senseless deaths of gladiators).
I didn't get time to visit any of the Roman ruins on this Italian visit (though thanks to a general strike I did spend a lot of time at the airport, which could have been better spent in the Forum), but I passed a lot of stuff in the cab and there is a real romance and beauty to the buildings, even though they have lost their lustre and their ceilings. Last time I was here I hated the fact that stones had been stolen from these ancient monuments to build churches. I suppose all the Christians who were fed to lions in the Coliseum would get some perverse satisfaction if they knew the fabric of the building they were being butchered in would one day form the basis of temples to their hero Jesus. Probably not enough satisfaction to make up for having their livers eaten in front of their astonished Christian faces. But I prefer those Gods and the drunken orgies and senseless violence of the Ancient Romans to the God, drunken orgies and senseless violence of the Roman Catholics. At least their was an honesty in the former, even if it was deeply wrong behaviour by our modern standards.
As I sat drinking with the people from the theatre last night I looked at the Italian faces of a couple of the older guys and realised that I was sitting with people who would not have looked out of place in the Forum. The blood of the Caesars flows through their veins.
But thanks to the efficiency of the Roman Empire the blood of the Caesars flows through most of us.

And Rome is a poignant reminder of the transcience of political power. Will London and Washington one day have similar ruined monuments to our modern day hubris?

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