Chapter 17: Jack's Romana

Hey Siri, play Pompeii by Bastille.

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Sunday, October 17th

After a rowdy weekend in Florence, Jason and I were headed to Rome. He was supposed to wake up at 8 AM to go tour some museum, but that didn’t happen. Jason, Mark, Matt, and I said our goodbyes, and I set off to grab breakfast before heading to the train station. I bought a new phone charger (mine had died, unfortunately), and headed to a different Rooster Cafe for some more chicken and waffles. Still the world’s best breakfast combo.

I hopped on a train to Rome that afternoon, and made it to Italy’s capital around 4. Jason got there 15 minutes later, and we checked in to our room. We met one of our roommates, a girl named Micha. Micha was from Hawaii, and she was traveling with her friend, Sage (California girl). They had worked together in Spain after college, and they were traveling Europe for a few months.

Jason and I headed to a local pizza (#15) place, and after dinner we explored the city.

Rome is incredible. We hopped off the metro and BAM: Colosseum. Palatine Hill. The Roman Forum. In the middle of downtown, we were surrounded by some of western history’s greatest creations.

We spent a couple of hours marveling at these structures at dusk. We headed downtown, where we were stopped by protesters speaking out against the meat industry.

I actually think future generations will look back at our factory farm industry with disgust, but I also love cheeseburgers. Pretty sure I’ll be on the wrong side of history here.

We made our way down to the Tiber River, where we saw the Castel Sant’Angelo. This castle across the river used to be the Pope’s home.

As the night grew darker, we headed back to the hostel for the night. I grabbed a cheeseburger (see above italicized statement) from the hostel bar, and went back to the dorm. I met Sage, Micha’s friend. She was busy creating artwork for a show the hostel was hosting on Wednesday.

Apparently the hostel was offering free stays to artists, writers, and photographers, and technically this blog would have qualified me as a writer. Unfortunately, I had already paid for my room.

Monday, October 18th

Jason and I woke up early, grabbed breakfast at the hostel, and headed straight to the Colosseum. We wanted to get there early and go inside before 10.

We didn’t realize that the ticket office was closed due to COVID, and we had to book tickets online. Fun fact, the world’s most famous historic sites sell out the day before. So we booked tickets for Tuesday (I also booked Vatican tickets), and we walked around some new parts of the city. We found a fantastic family-owned restaurant, I ate some pasta (sorry pizza diet), and then we headed back to the hostel. We were both exhausted from the last few days, and we agreed that we should rest up and hit the town all day on Tuesday.

Except I didn’t nap. I watched like six episodes of Squid Game. That show freaking slaps. I can’t believe I was this late to the show. We met a couple of Jason’s friends from a previous hostel for dinner. It was an interesting group: A German girl, Chinese girl, Belgian guy, and American dude from Utah. After dinner, we hit a gelato spot that was heaven on earth. $3.50 for four fat scoops, chocolate in the cone, and coffee-flavored whipped cream on top. 🤌🏼🤌🏼🤌🏼

After dinner, we headed back to the dorm. Sage was busy finalizing some of her art, and it was fantastic. Check it out:

Tuesday, October 19th

Big tourist day. I checked out of the hostel, dropped my stuff off in a locker, and headed to the Vatican.

I’m not Catholic, but I am a Christian. The Vatican is nuts. I’ve never seen so many religious relics, beautiful paintings, and ornate architecture in one place. My only regret was being short on time, because I had to visit the Colosseum as well that afternoon.

The Sistine Chapel was the best part, by far. While some tourists were disrespecting the “no photo” rules, I appreciated that the staff tried to maintain an atmosphere of reverence for the holy site.

If God was truly inhabiting that chapel, the least visitors could do would be show respect. Unfortunately, that’s not how tourists work. I get it, the paintings in the Sistine Chapel are world-class. But appreciate the traditions of the site.

I met Jason at the Colosseum at four, and the inside was nuts.

2,000 years ago, gladiators battled lions, tigers, and each other to the death in front of 50,000 blood thirsty fans. Today we gather in colosseums to watch athletes throw touchdowns, ace serves, and hit home runs. Entertainment was wild.

After the Colosseum, we headed to Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum. For any other history nerds reading this, you have to visit Rome and walk through these historic sites. Caesar, Aurelius, Cicero, Antony, and countless other Roman leaders walked these same roads. The fact that they still exist today is a gift that shouldn’t be taken for granted.

Around dusk, I headed back to the hostel, grabbed my stuff, and hopped on a train to Naples. Mike Slavei, aka Canadian Mike, was in Naples for a few days, and we were meeting there to travel to the Amalfi Coast.

I made it to Naples around 9:00, and met Mike at the hostel at 10. We grabbed some pizza (#16) and wine, and headed to a local bar to catch up.

We exchanged some stories from Europe, and planned our trip to the coast. We spent a ton of time talking about careers, work, and life. Something we both agreed on: it’s going to be damn near impossible to ever go back to a regular 9-5. But also, why would we wanna go back to the regular 9-5? There’s a lot of ways to make money out there. When we got back to the hostel, some bald 32 year old Icelandic guy from the next room over offered us a bunch of drugs and asked if we wanted to go out.

Thankfully I paid attention to DARE in the 5th grade, so we politely declined and went to sleep. I also couldn’t imagine anything worse than going out with the Pitbull wannabe from Reykjavik. Seemed like a terrible time.

Naples sucks. Dirty, grimy city. If you go to Italy, skip it.

Wednesday, October 20th

We grabbed breakfast with a couple of our roommates, Alejandro and Miles (dude had two broken arms from flipping his bike in Venice, and he was still trekking along. Respect), at the hostel restaurant before going to the airport to pick up a rental car. The Volkswagen T-Roc from Venice was two tons of raw steel and sex appeal. The Renault Twingo from Naples was as low-T as vehicles come. Even its horn sounded like a cry for help. But we whipped that bad boy to Amalfi.

The drive was awesome. Winding roads through the Italian mountains, with Vesuvius in the background. Once we neared the coast, we had 10 miles of switchbacks on narrow mountainside roads. If you ever hit up the Amalfi Coast, take a car. The drive is awesome.

Guess whose yacht we saw in the Mediterranean? Jeff Bezos. Googled a picture, and sure enough it was the same one. The world’s richest bald guy was vacationing off the coast of Italy as well.

We dropped the car off at our hotel 1/2 a mile from the beach, and we walked down to the coast. The beach was dark and rocky, but the weather was perfect. The Mediterranean was crystal clear and freezing, and we jumped right in. We tried to play some music on our speaker, but a couple of French ladies behind us asked if we could put in headphones. We said that we could turn it down, but they said we should turn it off instead.

For a country so “cultured”, I was shocked that they didn’t appreciate Big Bootie Mix 11 by Two Friends. What a shame.

After we showered and grabbed dinner, we explored the town for a bit. The nightlife in Amalfi was definitely lacking in mid-October, so we headed back to the hotel at 11 or so. After finishing the rest of our Italian adult beverages, we called it a night.

Thursday, October 21st

Today we visited one of the coolest sites in the world: Pompeii. A thriving Roman city of 20,000 people, Pompeii was destroyed by a volcanic eruption from Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD. However, this thick layer of ash preserved the ancient city, and archeologists rediscovered the lost city in 1748.

Homes, temples, arenas, markets, and even people were preserved by the layer of ash, and today Pompeii provides the most complete image of Roman life. While tons of historic sites in Rome still exist, a modern city has developed among the ruins. You can’t fully appreciate what ancient Rome felt like.

Nothing was built on top of Pompeii. Like a time capsule to year 79 AD, the city provides a picture of daily Roman life.

We walked down the cobblestone streets, viewed surviving artwork on the walls of houses, and marveled at the fossilized remains of Pompeii’s citizens. While most residents escaped, more than 700 didn’t.

Pompeii is my top recommendation for historic sites in Europe. Add it to the bucket list.

We headed back to Amalfi around sunset, and the mountain roads were foggy and eerie. It felt like a scene from a horror movie. We couldn’t see more than 10 feet in front of our vehicle, cars were stopped along the road sporadically, and stores and homes materialized out of nowhere.

When we got back, we hit a gelato place in town before calling it a night.

Tusculan Disputations

Since I’m spending some time wandering the ruins of Ancient Rome, I decided to read the works of some ancient Romans. None are more interesting than Tusculan Disputations by Cicero. Cicero was a Roman politician, attorney, orator, and philosopher who lived when Caesar overthrew the Roman Republic.

Cicero was a true Roman, whose allegiance was with Rome, and Rome alone. He was outspoken about the dangers of an authoritarian government, and wanted the Republic to ensue.

Cicero is Rome’s greatest writer, because he introduced Greek philosophy to the Latin world.

We often assume ancient Rome and Greece to be synonymous, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Greece had been around for a thousand years before the Roman Empire was formed. While well-versed in war, the Greeks were known for their mastery of philosophy, math, and the arts.

Rome was known for its military power and sound government. Romans were largely ignorant to the studies of philosophy, and Cicero translated the majority of Greek philosophy to Latin. He’s the reason that Greek philosophy ensues in western culture to this date.

Cicero wrote Tusculan Disputations as an old man. He spent five days debating life’s toughest questions with his students, and he used these dialogues to create to create this book. His five topics were contempt of death, pain, grief, emotional disturbances, and whether Virtue alone is sufficient for a happy life.

This book was written 2060 years ago, and the questions discussed ensue today. Technology has certainly progressed since 40 BC, but philosophy has stagnated. Maybe regressed.

We don’t deal with these tough questions anymore. Anxiety? We medicate that. Emotional disturbances? We diagnose that. Virtue? We don’t even discuss that.

And contempt of death. Well, we avoid that one at all costs. Here’s a shitty reality: you’re going to die. And I’m going to die. And everyone that lived has died. And everyone that’s going to live is going to die.

I don’t particularly want to die, but that’s the price of admission for this ride that we call life.

Cicero and his peers spent days discussing the idea of death. Is it evil, is it just part of life, does it remove all “purpose”, or amplify it? They accepted this uncomfortable reality, and explored it.

In 2021, we ignore death’s existence. It’s bitter and unavoidable, and we try to remove things that are bitter and unavoidable. Most people live their lives being willfully ignorant of this uncomfortable reality. Maybe that’s why people get caught up in trivial things: trivial is the ultimate distraction.

We distract ourselves with careers, and material pleasures, and anything that can keep our minds from wandering too far. That stuff never works. For centuries, people have used professional achievements and material goods to find fulfillment. It never worked.

We have tried to medicate all of our issues, and distract ourselves from what can’t be medicated. We abandoned religion, left philosophy to the philosophers of the past, yet in this era of material abundance, we have more anxiety, depression, and lack of purpose than ever before.

Life is made more comfortable by technological advancements, but life’s toughest questions will never be resolved by material improvements. The ensuing issues that bothered the Romans and Greeks are even more relevant in 2021.

It was refreshing to see Cicero and his peers, 2000 years ago, debating the same topics that plague everyone today.

Instead of avoiding them, or medicating them, we should confront them, and discuss them. I had to do that in my own life to figure out what I really wanted to do, and I’ve never been happier.

I’m not nihilistic or stoic; quite the opposite. I love life, and I’m having a blast in Europe right now. But it was pretty wild reading all of that deep stuff from 2,000 years ago. History isn’t some distant thing from another time. It’s a collection of people like you and me, dealing with problems like yours and mine. The languages, names, and empires change, but the people don’t.

Don’t waste your time doing stuff that you don’t care all that much about, and sprinkle a little philosophy in with the Netflix and Instagram binge.

You’re welcome for the existential crisis. Mike and I are about to tear up Positano, catch you guys later.

-JackSee below for the previous and next chapter: