CORRESPONDENCErnLetter From Romernby Chilton Williamson, ]r.rnRome as We Found ItrnIn horse-and-carriage days, foreign visitorsrnto Rome, after an arduous Alpinerncrossing, commonly entered the cityrnfrom the north, by the Milvian Bridgernwhich has existed since the second centuryrnB.C. Here, on October 28, 312, Constantinernhad a vision of Christ on the evernof his victory over his rival, Maxentius.rnSince that time, travelers have complainedrnof this dusty and uninspiring approachrnto the Eternal City: In 1764, EdwardrnGibbon noted that “The approachrnto Rome is not pleasing.”rnAir travel may have its virtues after all.rnMy first sight of the Mediterranean wasrnthrough a January haze beneath whichrnstony brown islands punched raggedrnholes in a satin sea; for me, Cibbon’srn”chord du Rome” was the parallel lines ofrncreamy waves breaking softly on thernbeach off the right wing of the plane as itrncoasted down its computerized slope ofrnair toward the green fields, terra-cottarnwalls, and tiled roofs of Fiumicino andrnLeonardo da Vinci Airport, adjacent tornthe village. I had my passport stamped byrnan impassive Italian immigration agentrnand went on to baggage claim, where thernfirst Romans I met were a pair of Mormonrnmissionaries from Ogden, Utah.rnWithin the hour, my colleagues ChrisrnCheck and Aaron Wolf of The RockfordrnInstitute and guests, Ruth Besemer ofrnBoulder, Colorado, and Rick and LindarnZanocco of Rockford, arrived on anrnAmerican Airlines flight from Chicago.rnAt 8:30 in the morning, after more thanrneight hours in flight from Detroit andrncountiess botties of free French wine, Irnwas especially happy to see Chris, whornhad arranged for a van to take us from thernairport to the hotel. Everyone had thernvague out-of-body expression of peoplerncoming off a transatiantic flight, but neverthelessrnfelt an almost supernatural enthusiasmrnto get on to Rome.rnIntermittent sliowers fell from a skyrnlike a Renaissance painting, egg-shell bluernwith smears of pink and yellow cloudrnabove rounded green hills crowned byrngroves of the spreading, flat-crowned Romanrnpines, with here and there a palmrntree or two. The driver took the superstradarninto the city, following the TiberrnRiver northeastward in the direction ofrnbuilt-upon hills and a succession ofrnlooming church domes, each one ofrnwhich resembled —but was not—thernvaster dome of St. Peter still many milesrnaway. We passed the Basilica of St. PaulrnWithout the Walls, where the Apostle isrnburied only a few kilometers from the siternof his martyrdom, and shortly afterwardrncrossed from the west to the east bank ofrnthe river. The van skirted the CircusrnMaximus, past the Campidoglio on thernCapitoline Hill, and rounded the monumentrnto Victor Emmanuel II. The outerrnshell of the age-darkened Colosseum, arndim and broken hulk, loomed brieflyrnthrough the rain and Trajan’s Columnrnflashed before my eyes before the vanrndarted into a maze of cobbled narrowrnstreets, descended a hill above the Forumrnof Augustus, and pulled up before thernHotel Forum on the Via Madonna delrnMonti. Tom Fleming, having arrivedrnwith Gail two days before New Year’s,rnstood in the lobby with an expression suspiciouslyrnlike that of a man waiting forrnthe bar to open. By 11:00 in the morning,rnRoman time, the French wine hadrnworn off, but Fausto the barman didn’trncome on duty for another hour yet.rn”I’m going upstairs for a lie-down,” Irntold Tom.rnHe gave me a look of the kind wernWesterners reserve for greenhorns whornattempt to mount their horse from thernwrong side.rn”That’s not something I would advisernyou to do. Did you take your melatoninrnbefore getting on the plane?”rnI muttered something about the pagairrnenvironmentalists in Laramie having corneredrnthe melatonin market for theirrnwinter-solstice rites and escaped to myrnroom w bile Tom was greeting Ray Olsonrnfrom Chicago. The room had a tiledrnfloor, a good-sized bath, and windowsrnopening onto a balcony from which I hadrna view of tiled rooftops supporting whatrnby February or March would be an irregularrnbut nevertheless impressive hayrncrop. Without stopping to unpack, Irnturned down the counterpane and fellrnasleep across the wide and comfortablernbed. When I awoke, the light beyond thernwindow was fading, and I had missedrnTom’s walking tour to somewhere. (Ever’rnThos. Fleming production abroad demandsrnfrom its participants the strenuousrn—one might say merciless—exercisernof the calf and thigh muscles, as well asrnthe little gray cells. This trip was to provernno exception to the rule.)rnWe went for supper—Tom and GailrnFleming, Srdja Trifkovic, Clyde Wilsonrnand his daughter Ann, and I—on the otherrnside of the Colosseum at Pasqualinornon Via de Quattro Santi Coronati, wherernthe pasta was homemade and the food superb,rnthough the conversation (the companyrnseemed agreed on the probability ofrnGeorge W. Bush being the last “conservative”rnpresident) was somewhat depressing.rnSuspicious stares from a gentiemanrnat a table across the room confirmed thatrnthe restaurant, to which Chris Kopff hadrnintroduced Tom a couple of years before,rnwas a neighborhood hangout of the firstrncaliber; in fact my orate, a Mediterraneanrnfish finely grilled, and pasta with lentilsrn(something, it occurred to me, even Irncould attempt at home) did not disappoint.rnFrom Pasqualino, we wandered inrnthe dark along the Via dei Fori Imperiali,rnbetween the floodlit bulk of the Colosseumrnand the site where Nero’s GoldenrnPalace once stood, in the direction of thernhotel, where the part}’ turned in. All of it,rnthat is, but Srdja, Thomas, and myselfrn”Centiemen,” Srdja proposed, “shall werntake a walk?”rnTurning our backs on the Arch ofrnConstantine, electrically illuminated underrna waxing moon, we set out on a midnightrnwalk in the opposite directionrnacross the darkened city: past Trajan’srnColumn and the Palazzo Venezia withrnits solitary balcony made famous by BenitornMussolini; the Trevi Fountain (alsornfloodlit and surrounded by lovers, photographers,rnand people tossing coins intornthe water); the Pantheon (looming suddenlyrnout of the night around a corner);rnthence to the Via del Corso, from wherernthe sight of the distant Vittorio Emmanuelern(nicknamed locally the “WeddingrnCake” or, even more appropriately’,rnthe “Typewriter”) gave us our bearingsrnAPRIL 2001/31rnrnrn