We had a good time walking about yesterday -- we did the "Left Bank Walk" from Rick Steves' Paris guide. We started at the Pont des Arts, past Voltaire's garden (and smirking statue), and paused for espresso at the famous La Palette Cafe.
Unfortunately, I still seem to be suffering from the lingering effects of my head-cold / chest-cold / bronchitis / pneumonia / plague thing, and I had a miserable four hours of agony as the pressure in my sinuses reached stellar-core levels. It was a bit like having someone pound a nail out of my skull from behind my right eyebrow. After four Tylenol and many hot compresses, something in my head made a bony snapping noise, followed by the much-anticipated squealing noise of air rushing through a very small hole. Mimi dropped the book she was reading and looked worried and slightly ill. Sweet, sweet relief!
We did a quick visit to Notre Dame, had lunch at the Montparnasse train station (Mimi had to buy tickets for her students' trip tomorrow), had coffee at the Louvre, and watched Floyd Landis win the Tour de France.
All in all, a successful day.
I had a super-uber rotten flight. I don't think I'm ever going to fly Ryan Air after this trip. They don't even let you have water without paying 6 euro. And they blair advertisements at you the the whole way. And take collections for asorted Irish charities. And my skull felt like it was being sweezed in a vice, until I got tunnel vision from the pain, and then the sqeezing just turned into general agony. And the guy next to me was a talkative New Zelander who kept making dirty Jew jokes.
Then I got to Luton, and bought the first edible object I found, which turned out to be a tiny tuna sandwich and a bottle of water (there's no potable drinking water at the airport). It was 14 pounds. 14 pounds.
Then Steve gave me wrong directions, and I walked the length and bredth of Hyde Park looking for him. Nice place, but not while running a fever (again). Then I wasted some more time discovering that six out of seven phone booths in the city seem to be broken, and then had to pay 4 pounds for another 3 minute conversation.
The good news is that Steve is putting me up at a special flat for visiting professors (just until Monday). It's right on Hyde Park, next to the Science Museum. It's beautiful, much nicer than Savoy. Private kitchen, laundry, lounge, balcony (overlooking the park), plus squash courts, pool, et cetera. Unfortunately, London is not completely obsessed with "security", so you need a damn key card to do anything in the building, and the stupid security system doesn't work right, and every time I go outside the flat I set off ten different alarms. I press down button on elevator, whooping sirens. I bump into a protruding light fixture, set off screeching claxons. Guards come running with hands on guns, babes cry, small children snicker at me. Et cetera. It's like something out of a movie.
Then I found a pub and ate some fish and chips and three pints of ale, and felt better.
Rome's sad fate was sealed sometime during its wars with Carthage. When Carthage wad destroyed, the Romans acquired the lands once controlled by Carthage -- Spain, Libya, Morocco, Corsica and Sardinia. Carthage was the center of a trading empire, and so Rome seized a great deal of wealth through the conquest. The spoils of victory had a destabilizing effect on Rome's class system, adding domestic chaos to foreign entanglements. As the Punic Wars dragged on, the military gradually increased in prominence in Roman society. The Roman institution of the dictatorship -- an institution that was much feared, and for good reason -- allowed Julius Cesar to first claim the title of dictator rei gerendae causa, and then dictator perpetuus.
The moment the Senate voted Cesar dictator perpetuus, the Roman republic was dead. If the Senate had refused, and Cesar had destroyed it, perhaps the republic could have been re-formed after Cesar's death. Instead, the republic chose to chain itself to the emperor, and the fate of leadership without accountability is always inevitable decline. That is why republics exist in the first place -- they are a hedge against human vices and vanities.
Turning to the American republic, the huge importance of the military in society throughout the twentieth century is troubling. The domestic unhappiness (not yet chaos) caused by the uneven distribution of America's great expansion of prosperity is troubling. The current executive's efforts to undermine the powers of its coequal branches of government are troubling, especially since these efforts are justified in the name of emergency conditions and extraordinary circumstances.
Whenever George Bush talks about "these troubling times" and the "war on terror," I remember that the Roman republic died so that someone could wield emergency powers, and fate of Rome itself eventually reflected the fate of its republic. During the Dark Ages, Rome was essentially abandoned. Farmers planted fields where the Senate once met.
When I look at the old battered Pantheon, I can't help but hope that someone will always tend to the paint on the US Capitol. I hope that no one ever wanders through Washington D.C., snapping pictures of the awesome bones of a defunct empire. I want Americans to hold their noses and vote, year after year, for a government that belongs to everyone. I want Washington to remain forever a mildly contemptible town where Americans get down to the business of governing, and that it never becomes the seat of a great empire.
Most of all, I hope that our republic is built of stronger stuff than Rome's.
We went on Sunday, so the churches we visited were having services. We visited :
Santa Maria del Popolo Church (Piazza del Popolo)
St. Peter's square
Of course everyone knows St. Peter's Basilica. Notice that Bernini designed the piazza as a Keplerian ellipse, which was a not-so-subtle dig at Church dogma. At each focus of the ellipse, the columns line up, allowing you to see out of the square.
Santa Maria della Vittoria Church (Largo di Santa Susanna)
The Pantheon was built more than two thousand years ago to be the personal temple of the Roman emperor. It really does defy description.
Piazza della Minerva
This is the church where Gallileo was tried, and where he was later forced to recant his discoveries.
Castel Sant’Angelo and “il Passetto”
I've posted a new gallery of the photos that came out reasonably well.
These photos are from my 7 hour layover in Amsterdam. I took that train into the city and walked around for a few hours, drank some espresso, ate some cookies, and goggled at the city. I was in the city from 6:30 AM to 11:00 AM, so pretty much everyone was asleep.
I encountered a small barge dredging one of the canals, which was actually quite fascinating. The fellow pulled up an assortment of junk, and carefully sorted it in the container he was tugging alongside the barge. I saw him pull up a 1920's era typewriter, which he put into what I assume was the "probably recyclable" pile, a claw-full of ornately decorated cobblestones (not at all like the ones on the adjacent street), and an assortment of maritime garbage, like ropes, chains, broken pulleys, half a boat anchor, and such. Surprisingly, I didn't see any bottles or cans. I guess people usually don't throw their ordinary garbage into the canals, which is nice. While I was standing on the bank, he splashed me a bunch of genuine Amsterdam canal muck. Lucky me!
I'll upload the pictures from Rome soon. Hopefully I can find someplace that doesn't charge an arm, leg and kidney for internet access.
- Amsterdam (for 17 hours)
- Rome (a week and change)
- Oxford (for the Culham Plasma Physics Summer School)
- London for five days
- Berlin for four days
- Back to London for four days
I'll toast to that. Happy 230th, America.
It's powered by a 9-Volt battery that I've squashed inside. Not quite audiophile material, but I want to build a real audiophile-quality amplifier someday, and I figured I ought to start somewhere.