I’m still thinking back on my recent trip to Rome. It’s funny how no matter how many times you see things like the Colosseum, or the Pantheon, when you go back home and you think back on it, the whole thing seems kind of surreal. Was I really there? Did I really touch these things that are thousands of years old?
Two years ago, we took a trip to Italy with my extended family, including nieces and nephews down to the age of five. I was pretty excited to show them Rome when we got there, but I don’t think the excitement ever rubbed off on them. First of all, the younger kids never saw some of the best stuff, like the catacombs or the Capuchin Cemetery (see last week’s blog). But even seeing all the ruins and the enormous monuments to the seemingly limitless architectural ability of the Romans, I wondered whether in the eyes of the kids, it might have paled in comparison to Disney World. I mean, if you don’t have a sense of the history, you might be tempted to ask why it’s not all nice and shiny like Disney – why it’s broken down and no one in a colorful uniform is picking up the cigarette butts.
Did Walt build the Pantheon? If so, why is there no roller coaster inside the dome, like in Space Mountain? And what if Disney were to build a life sized replica of ancient Rome somewhere in Florida. I imagine it could be done – Rome’s not that big.
I think the question I’m asking is: Have we gotten ourselves to the point where our ability to create an artificial reality (whether in Florida or on a screen) is so good that the real reality can’t compete? Maybe Rome wasn’t built in a day because it didn’t have Disney’s money. But is the ability of producers like Disney to create a visually arresting artificial world ruining us and our ability to appreciate the world God created – or for that matter the world that our ancestors created?
How can we enjoy the virtual realities that entertain us, while still allowing the younger generations to appreciate the physical world, whether we’re talking about nature or human achievement? How could I have impressed upon my nieces and nephews just how amazing it is that something like the Pantheon or St. Peter’s dome could even have been built at all, let alone that it’s still standing? I love my nieces and nephews, and that’s why I want them to catch the passion I have for Rome and its history. But of course the irony is the more you try to make someone else get your passion, the more they feel compelled to find their own (different) passions.
So what’s the point? Well, I love historical and science fiction, and if they built a replica of ancient Rome in Florida, I would be first in line to see it. But as cool as all that is, the real thing is so much more awesome. That’s because nothing you could build today would have the dust of two millennia (not to mention the blood of the martyrs) on it. But you can’t see that, unless you know it. And they won’t know it, unless we tell them. So I guess I’ll keep trying to make my passion contagious. Even when they say, Why do we have to do what Uncle Jim wants to do?
For what it’s worth, you can see my humble attempts to capture the scenery and architecture of Rome at my photography website: www.Romesick.org.