“Mi scuso, sir. The Colosseum is closed,” the guard responded with little sympathy.
The wrestler lumbered away, huffing and muttering to himself. We were next in line. My mom stepped up to the security guard hoping to convince him to admit us into the Colosseum, even though we had arrived two minutes past closing time. His answer was the same.
My mom broke out in fluent Italian.
She explained to him that we were visiting from America and would only be in Rome for one night; we had to head back to her grandmother’s house in Strangolagalli (a small, little-known town) tomorrow. She pleaded with the man to let us into the ancient Roman ruin, just for one minute. Just for one picture.
The surly wrestler still lingered several feet away and latched onto another opportunity to persuade the guard. He approached my mom, “You speak Italian. Can you please explain to this man who I am? I’m a WRE-STL-ER. For WWE. And I don’t know when I’ll ever come back to Rome. He needs to let me in there.” I wondered what the man was hoping to find inside the illustrious ruin.
My mother told the wrestler that the guard was clearly not allowing anyone inside, but he insisted that she try to reason with the man. Irritated, my mother turned back to the security guard and told him, in Italian, what the man wished her to say. The guard again refused.
As my mom continued in her melodic native tongue, the guard finally exploded into laughter. “Where did you learn to speak?” he inquired, “you speak Italian of the Vecchi,”—Italian of the Old People. Growing up in a house with my Nonna and Nonno—the endearing Italian names for Grandma and Grandpa—caused my mother to learn an aged dialect from a trifling town. My mom’s unintentional linguocentricity had charmed the guard—much like the way that the honeyed drawl of an American Southerner delights a die-hard Yankee. He told her to pretend we were leaving; then, he would let us in when the wrestler had vacated the area.
Trudging away from the scene, we tried our best to look disappointed and discouraged. It worked. The assertive American athlete shuffled away, finally abandoning his aspirations.
Confirming the wrestler’s departure—yet still hoping the promise wasn’t a mere mirage—my mom and I scrambled back to the entrance with gusto. The guard simply smiled at us and moved aside to allow us in.
A chipped archway beckoned us into the arena—I imagined the once contemporary beauty of the structure that now consisted of three crumbling stories of articulated arches. I pressed my palm against the decaying wall of bricks, a vain hope that the history of the edifice would be absorbed into my skin.
I envisioned the extravagance of the sea battles with the entire ground floor of the Colosseum flooded with water, makeshift flat-bottom boats and self-appointed sailors enacting bloodshed for the entertainment of a hungering audience. I saw gladiators in bloodstained battle storming the ground. Lions hunting criminals, elephants charging bands of convicts, and trained professionals slaughtering hundreds of animals, some to the point of extinction—all for sport.
The air was thick with irony as I contemplated how our tenacious wrestling friend might have been treated 2,000 years before. He would not have had to haggle his way in—he would have been worshipped as a brutal hero of the arena. And my mom and I would have served as casualties for Nero’s bloody amusement.
Silent and reflective, we stood there. Solitary figures against a glorious backdrop of antiquity—like lonesome time travelers. We had broken the boundaries of history, surrounded by infinite quiet (a silence not known once filled with spectators)—no babbling guide pouring useless facts into our ears. Just mystery and death and a setting sun. My mom pulled me close.
In this moment…mother and daughter. Alone. Contemplating the past of another people. I felt intrinsically linked to our long lost Italian ancestors, and yet decidedly separate.
Realizing the rarity of this opportunity, I was bursting with vitality; I stepped back from my mom, took a running start, and cartwheeled along the path surrounding the ground level of the arena. “Who else can say they cartwheeled inside the Colosseum?” I asked, intoxicated from my mischief.
“All right, signore. Andiamo. It’s time for us to lock up.” The guard had silently crept up behind us.
That night we walked the streets of Rome with soul. Every street peddler with roses, we obliged. Every avenue musician, we applauded. Every roadside artist, we revered. High on our secret adventure.