I should have been on one of these right now . . .
Instead we're at a hotel in Ostia, our stay in Italy having been extended courtesy of Alitalia overbooking their flights to JFK, Boston, and Toronto. The airport was chaos. No other word would cover it.
I was fascinated in the reactions of the various folks. The people bumped were predominately Americans, Canadians, and Italians. Italians have ranted, shaked, wailed, laughed and moved on. Canadians are standing quietly at back of the chaos waiting their turn. The New Yorkers and Bostonians . . . mama mia! I have heard some new words.
I tooka different approach with the women who were trying to manage the chaos. I commiserated. I told them I hoped they weren't taking it personally. I apologized on behalf of my fellow travellers who were so overwrought they forgot basic human decency.
In the end we were rebooked for tomorrow. Provided with a hotel for tonight, dinner, breakfast, and some to be determined compensation. A happy result.
Tonight at dinner we ran into many of the people who had been ranting at the airport today . . . funny how few of them have direct flights like us. In fact, the guy who was ranting about everything being broken in Italy, and this would never happen in the US, and they were a bunch of a**holes is booked in three flights before he gets to JFK.
I suspect nothing happens by chance.
During our shuttle ride to the hotel I mentioned to Nancy and Paul that I thought we were close to the Roman ruins at Ostia Antica. Sure enough we were but a 10 minute walk from the train station, 1 stop from the Ostia stop, and then 10 minutes from the site.
Yes, we had an adventure this afternoon!
Located at (and named for) the mouth (ostium) of the Tiber, Ostia was founded about 620 B.C. Its main attraction was the salt gleaned from nearby salt flats, which was a precious preserver of meat in ancient times. Later, as Rome began expanding (around 400 B.C.), Ostia was conquered, and a fort, or castrum, was built here. Ostia — often called Rome's first colony — served as a naval base, protecting Rome from any invasion by river. By A.D. 150, when Rome controlled the Mediterranean, Ostia's importance became commercial rather than military. Rome eventually outgrew the port of Ostia, and a vast new port was dug nearby (where Rome's airport now stands). But Ostia remained a key administrative and warehousing center, busy with the big business of keeping more than a million Romans fed and in sandals. With the fall of Rome, the port was abandoned. Over time, the harbor silted up, and the Tiber retreated to about one mile away. The mud that eventually buried Ostia actually protected it from the ravages of time — and stone-scavenging medieval peasants.
Most of ancient Ostia’s 50,000 residents lived in densely packed apartment buildings four or five stories high. First-floor rooms are still there to walk into. Stairs that led to upper stories trail off into space. Eventually it dawns on you that you’re seeing not just how people lived in Ostia, but how the masses must have lived in Rome, too.
You can wander around the barracks of the fire department, which doubled as a police force with 300 men, rotated in from Rome for three-month stints. You can drop in at a restaurant with a stone countertop and faded frescoes advertising the food: fruit, carrots, lentils. Then there is Fortunatus’s wine bar, which angles for customers with a message in the floor mosaic roughly translatable as “Fortunatus’s Place. You know you’re thirsty — come on in and drink.” Ostians transacted legal business in their small forum, where steps take you up to the main pagan temple. Most worshiped in other buildings, including a synagogue with reliefs of a menorah and shofar. The excavated bakeries have millstones and ovens, and at the laundries you’ll see built-in tubs where human agitators jumped on the clothes to keep them moving in the first-century version of the wash cycle. Although the laundries’ use of urine as a bleach seems questionable, Ostians liked to be clean. If you have the patience, you can find the remains of 20 public baths, including the one where the mule drivers went to lounge.
Ostia wasn’t exactly forgotten after the encroaching silt and vegetation took over. Much of the marble facing from its concrete structures was dug up in the Middle Ages and Renaissance to be reused on distant new buildings. Kilns were set up to extract lime from its once abundant marble statuary.
But the basics remain (concrete, brick and stone) along with artwork and columns buried too deep to be easily plundered. There is more than enough for a day of exploring, with a break for a sandwich or salad at the airy cafe, a visit to the small, well-designed museum, and some browsing at the bookstore.
Rather than ranting . . . thanks for the unexpected joy Alitalia!