So many people were busy taking selfies on Patricia Feehily's Roman holiday that they didn't even notice a small explosion
I GIVE up! Any generation that allows itself to be called the ‘selfie generation’ has no shame whatsoever. I have just returned from my first ever trip to Rome where everyone – apart from myself and the immortal ‘Dying Gaul’ were taking selfies in front of ancient monuments, art treasures and architectural wonders. By Jupiter, but they were a distraction!
I don’t know what Cicero would have thought of the people, young and old from across the globe, preening themselves in front of what remains of the Forum, but for me they were an unwelcome intrusion. Even the Colosseum looked puny beside the hundreds of giant egos on display in front of it.
But in a place like Rome, strewn with ancient and mediaeval wonders, it’s hard to resist the lure of the ‘selfie’. Maybe I was trying to catch the eye of the god of immortality, but I very nearly became part of the selfie generation myself.
Calling to mind the old adage, ‘when in Rome, do as Rome does’, I tried to take a selfie myself in front of the awesome Pantheon. I wanted to be able to tell my grandchildren in years to come: ‘That’s me at the Pantheon’. If Barrack Obama can allow a selfie of himself with Richard Branson on the latter’s Caribbean island of Necker without even blushing, surely I can get a picture of myself with the Pantheon in the background for posterity.
But Jupiter was having none of it, or maybe I just needed more practice at taking selfies.
The first couple of attempts showed me more monumental and more rotund than the edifice itself, which was absurd, because I had just come out of it when I started taking the pics. Anyway, I’ve lost weight and surely the old ego couldn’t possibly have expanded so dramatically in that short length of time. The second attempt was worse. I wasn’t in the picture at all, apart from my left thumb, which I didn’t even recognise. But the Pantheon never looked so glorious. Agrippa would have been thrilled.
Someone watching my pathetic attempts to take a selfie tried to sell me a stick to hold the phone, but I declined, and then, before you could say press the button, the most unmerciful explosion reverberated around the centre of the city. My first instinct was to grab the fellow with the selfie phone sticks, but like Jupiter, he was having none of it either, if I wasn’t going to purchase his merchandise. My second instinct was to run, but I didn’t know where to run. Not back into the Pantheon anyway, in case it fell in on me. Anyway my feet were killing me after walking the cobbled streets from the Vatican to Palatine Hill and back to the Pantheon. So running was out of the question. Then I noticed that nobody around me seemed to be in the least bit fazed. They were still taking selfies when I opened my eyes, which, for some ridiculous reason had automatically closed tightly when the bang went off. Nothing, it seems, fazes the ‘selfie generation’.
I walked gingerly back to the Pantheon Hotel where we were staying, searching for my two daughters who had given me a trip to Rome as a Christmas present. I found them scoffing the most delectable gelato in an ice cream parlour, completely unruffled by the explosion. Visions of Nero fiddling while the place was going up in smoke assailed my mind. ‘Did you hear the bang?’ I asked, still shaking. They calmed me down saying that it can’t have been much because I was the only one they had seen on the streets who was panic stricken.
Then there was a second loud explosion and I said “That’s it. We’re out of here’. But of course I didn’t go anywhere because I was literally stuck to the floor of the ice cream parlour in terror. Apart from a child crying in the immediate vicinity, no-one around me seemed in any way perturbed, least of all my daughters. If they read this, I know they’ll say that I’m exaggerating the whole episode. Me, exaggerate?
In any case I was very jittery and in no mood for loud bangs, having walked straight into the middle of a mass demonstration outside the Parliament Building earlier that day. People were waving their fists in anger at the EU’s plan to interfere with the control of their beaches and the riot police were lined up on every side. Eggs were being thrown at the building and I was hoping to God that Enda wasn’t inside looking for special Brexit concessions for Ireland.
I wouldn’t want to see the Taoiseach with egg on his face. Minutes later, I walked into another furious protest by taxi drivers from all over Italy who had converged on Rome that day to vent their rage. I was dying to take a selfie but I didn’t want to indulge myself in the midst of such outrage.
It turned out that the explosions were caused by a couple of paper bombs, which made me feel a bit silly at first, until I learned next day that one paper bomb had blown out a window in a building not that far from where we were staying. I wanted to go down and get a selfie of me in front of the shattered window, just to show posterity that I had been in a war zone, but the daughters pulled me back saying I might incriminate myself, especially since selfies were never really my thing.
Despite all that drama, none of which, by the way, was exaggerated, Rome was a magical experience.
There were several highlights, but for me the most evocative were the ruins of the Roman and Imperial Fora and their testament to the passing of glory and time. I couldn’t help thinking what a wonderful thing it would be if the Classics were restored to the Leaving Cert curriculum instead of introducing Coding as a subject.
It might make us much more sophisticated politically, and at least we wouldn’t be depending on ‘selfies’ to capture a particular moment.