Tomatoes, Taxes & Time

TRAVEL STORIES: Rome

All Taxes Lead to Rome

Before Augustus Ceaser, who founded the Roman Empire, Rome was a poor and largely, an unremarkable city. Mud houses, terrible sanitation, diseases aplenty, very low life expectancy and for today’s legendary Rome, no landmarks to speak of. So what changed? How did Rome become the Rome we know today: epic and attractive to travelers from all around the world?

Let’s go back to the beginning of the first millennium after Christ. As Augustus conquered more and more territory, more and more taxes from across the world were directed towards building Rome. And it didn’t stop at taxes. Often, foreign slaved-labour was used to build the epic buildings we see today. In fact, after destroying the main Jewish temple in Jerusalem, Jewish slaves were dragged to Rome and pushed to build the Colosseum – progress, and prosperity at the cost of militarily weaker lands and their citizens. Two millennia later, the trend continues…

Margherita, Without Tomatoes Anyone?

Close your eyes – metaphorically of course, as reading further might be a little tricky with eyes closed. Now take a deep breath. Imagine the famed Italian cuisine without tomatoes. That’s right, without tomatoes. Beef Bolognese, spaghetti in basil tomato sauce or the Margherita pizza. The funny part: it’s true. The Italians didn’t take a liking to tomatoes as something edible until the nineteenth century. In fact, when tomatoes were first introduced, the Italians were thoroughly amused and used tomatoes only for decorating their houses. You know, who doesn’t like a good string of rotten tomatoes wrapped around the curtain rod. Ah, the fragrance!

As tomatoes first started getting used in food, Italians wrongly blamed those for deaths caused by food poisoning. The lead used in the pewter dinner plates was the real culprit. Anyhow, moving along, the turning point might have come thanks to the Church. The church said, “please do not eat these evil red fruits as these are known to cause a burst of intense temptation in the loins.” Well, you know what they say, nothing sells better than sex! And the tomatoes and the rest of the Italian cuisine lived happily ever after.

Frozen in Time

Once upon a time, there was a live entertainment production company. It produced some amazing reality shows similar to WWE, Man v/s Nature, Wipeout, The Amazing American Ninja, The Dog Race and so on. Inter-office politics meant there was intense competition amongst show producers to get their show on to prime time slots. And that was natural because the company was the best in Europe complete with coveted facilities for the shows and its actors: on-site gym, first aid, accommodation and the best of all, a world-class venue with a capacity of 100,000. Yes, the company/venue I’m talking about The Colosseum from two thousand years ago. But it could well have been a story from today or fifty years ago.

And that’s what struck me the most about the Colosseum: it’s a witness to the slow evolutionary process of the human race. To give you some context of how old it really is, consider this: the Colosseum was about 700 years old by the time Islam was born, 950 years old by the time the Khmers started building Angor Wat and about 1500 years old before Columbus stumbled upon the Americas. And it stands. Empires spanning centuries have come and gone, we’ve moved from horse carts to jets, from building with stone to wood to glass, and yet, it stands. That is truly quite colossal.

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