Here is a link to a slide show  we made about our daily schlep this year: collecting the kids from their school bus stop. You might want to read the text below for context before viewing the slide show!

Many months ago, our friends Pam and Kevin wrote asking us about what our daily lives in Rome were like. But we got so distracted by big things and trips that we never got around to posting about ordinary things—like getting the kids to school.

The whole school bus issue was a big struggle for us.

The children’s morning bus stop is an easy 4-block walk from our house. The piazza where we meet the bus, Piazza Augusto Imperatore (Emperor Augustus Plaza), is really quite interesting. In the center of the piazza is the tomb of Augustus, Rome’s first emperor and the namesake of our final month of summer. On two sides of the piazza are prime examples of fascist architecture (that Mussolini intentionally placed next to Augustus, to lend an air of credibility), and on a remaining side of the piazza is perhaps the only contemporary building I have seen in the center of Rome—the Ara Pacis Museum, designed by the American architect Richard Meier. So there is a lot going on visually.

This would have been the children’s bus stop after school, too. But things are never so simple in Italy.

The children’s school offers a rich variety of afterschool programs. Kids can pick a different activity for each day of the week, but need to stick with that schedule for the year. Nell chose choir, Math-letics, modern dance, and soccer; Eli chose soccer, basketball, soccer, and mixed sports. (Although music lessons are also offered, we all agreed to take a sabbatical from nagging about practicing an instrument.)

There was only one wrinkle in the plan. We realized that by staying for these activities, the kids can’t take their regular bus home, and instead must take a “late” bus to a part of the city that is really hard for us to get to. We couldn’t car pool because we had no car and knew no other families in the area. Taxis and car services were prohibitively expensive.

Given that we live in an apartment in the center of the city with few children or open spaces around, we didn’t want the kids to miss the afterschool activities that have, in fact, become the hub of their social lives. So Jenny and I sucked it up and committed to the two hour round-trip journey every day to get across town to pick the children up. At first we found it really aggravating and complained about it constantly to each other. We tried buses and the metro to get across town, but they were no faster than walking. Then, slowly, we realized what a fabulous walk we got to take all year. Ironically, now with the school year ending, we are going to miss the bus pick up.

Below is a slide show of photos on each block, from the time we leave our apartment, until the time we arrive at the bus stop. (Viewed in Full Screen, it is easy to see a lot of interesting details about the historic center.) We go home by bus or metro- but it isn’t convenient, pretty or pleasant . . . the kids need to get off the school bus and then take two more buses or two metros to get home, but we’ve all made it work.

Here are a few things you’ll see in the slide show that might not be immediately obvious:

Although it was not still the style used at the time, Emperor Augustus decided to have his tomb crafted in the style of the ancient Etruscans. It was a clever political move, tying him to the most ancient civilization of his people. That is why the building is round and has grass growing on top. It is quite a sight in the center of the city.

Mussolini was also a clever guy and followed the same principle. For added credibility, he had his government office buildings constructed around Augustus’ tomb. In this way, he showed his historical tie to Rome’s first ruler. Something that we walked by hundreds of times before noticing was this decoration on the side of one of the buildings. The angel on this relief is holding a bunch of rods. The term “fascist” comes from the Italian fascismo, which is from the Latin fasces.  The fasces were bundles of rods that were tied around an axe, the ancient Roman symbol of authority, used for corporeal punishment. Hence the origin of the term fascist as related to politics. For years Mussolini’s name had been chipped off the side of the building, but it has been long enough that the letters were recently replaced.

If you read the blog post about the ubiquitous Wedding Cake, you can see it a few times in the background during the slide show.

There is a lot of interesting stuff happening in the Jewish Ghetto. It may seem to you that Rome’s Great Synagogue looks a lot like a church. At the time it was built, there were no Jewish architects. Although the building was constructed to be a synagogue, the architects did what they knew how to do. . .design churches!  There is a noticeable police presence here. After a horrible attack following a religious service in which a young child was killed, Roman police are now stationed at each corner around the old synagogue. And a police car is stationed in the center of the ghetto when the Jewish school is in session.

Just after the Ghetto pictures, there is a photograph of Hebrew writing. You may think it comes from the side of the synagogue—but it does not. It is writing on the front of a Catholic Church that faces what used to be the Ghetto walls. Pope Gregory—an otherwise enlightened man who introduced the calendar—required the Jews of Rome to attend Sunday mass every week. The Jews were encouraged to save their souls, and the writing, in Hebrew, reminds them that if they don’t convert, they are screwed for eternity.

The Temple of Portunus, dating to the first century B.C., is (along with the Pantheon) my favorite building in Rome. It is here that we can see how the Romans totally set the stage for everything we now consider standard in a building. The Etruscans built using earth and the Greeks had columns with entrances to buildings all around the perimeter. Here the Romans combine these ideas with their own style. This introduces ideas such as a front door, a porch, the use of concrete rather than single hunks of marble, columns that are decorative rather than functional, a roof that totally closes in and covers the building beneath . . .it’s all there for the first time!

The Mouth of Truth (La Bocca della Verità) is the portico of the Paleochristian church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin. The church itself is amazing. But the tour busses stop for what is essentially a manhole cover representing a river god with an open mouth. Legend has it that if liars put their hands inside its mouth, they will lose them. The mask was featured in the film Roman Holiday, in which Gregory Peck challenges Audrey Hepburn to put her hand inside the mouth. The film is apparently a cult classic in Japan and so queues of tourists line up outside the beautiful church for a photo op. Nell and I did it once and threatened each other with embarrassing questions we might ask each other when it was our turn.

Towards the end of the walk, we pass the home of the US Ambassador to the Vatican. The Vatican requires that countries maintain two distinct embassies in Rome: one to Italy and another to the Vatican. Walking past this building is irritating because one block away is the UN organization fighting world hunger. I keep thinking: how many children could we feed a year if we weren’t paying for all of the infrastructure needed to support a separate embassy and ambassador home from each country for the Vatican? Couldn’t one embassy to Italy and the Vatican cover enough ground?

The children’s bus stop is at the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations). This year we have had the great pleasure of learning more about these kinds of organizations and meeting the extremely bright and dedicated people from around the world who are working to make sure people have regular access to enough high-quality food and water. Many of the kids’ friends’ parents work FAO or at the other very wonderful UN organizations in Rome, International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), a specialized agency of the United Nations that addresses rural hunger and poverty in developing countries, and the World Food Programme (WFP), the largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger in the world.

Here is a link to the movie…