ME AND THE ROMAN GIRLS
Here we go again! But this time, no beautiful legs. Even if there are, they were neatly hidden inside ancient Roman garment worn by the two Austrian tour guides who welcomed us to Carnuntum, a small historical city aptly tagged, the 'reborn city of the Emperors'.
The two Austrian ladies—yes, beautiful, if you want to know—are trying to recreate how the ancient Roman women dressed in their time, as part of efforts to transport tourists back in time to around AD 124 when Emperor Hadrian 'raised Carnutum to the status of a Roman city.'
Seeking for small adventure beyond the confines of the five-star Austria Trend Hotel Savoyen, Vienna, where the 60th anniversary of International Press Institute conference held and where we also stayed, we escape with a tour guide to Carnuntum, an ancient Roman city 45 kilometres away from Vienna, Austria, 25 kilometres to Bratislava, Slovakia, or 200 kilometers to Budapest, Hungary.
Carnuntum is an ancient Roman city dating back to 6 AD under the Roman General Tiberius now being reconstructed into a modern archeological garden by the creative Austrian archeologists, architects and engineers. First, we are briefed about the historic site, encouraged to buy souvenirs in the official shop. I try to pay for a book with my credit card. 'Disallowed,' the old shop assistant said, after fiddling with his cranky machine and scanning my face. Black. Nigerian. There we go again! Other people's credit cards worked, why not mine which I've been using in Vienna, since I'm not in the red? No point in pointless argument, so I pay cash.
We are given an ancient brew supposedly from the Roman times—I tasted it and it was more like a fermented palm wine of four days mixed with whisky. No, I can't drink this strong brew. Surely, the Romans were not drinking whisky about 2,000 years ago, were they? The weather is getting a bit chilly, so the white people seem too glad to down their cups, impressed by the acrid, exotic taste. Yes, Mike Awoyinfa? He drained his cup, saying, 'I don't mind more!'
Next, we are to mint a coin with Caesar's head, using ancient metal equipment. Probably, some people were allowed to make their own currency in the ancient Roman Empire? That would have been a recipe for financial anarchy, in which case, over half of the populace of Rome wouldn't have been slaves as historians tell us since each slave would simply mint enough currency to buy his own freedom!
But, remember, this is tourism, not history class! Each of us takes turns to wield a heavy hammer which you bring down on top of the old metal contraption and out comes your coin with Caesar's head. It's your souvenir made by you—I still have my own copper coin.
'Congratulations!' the Roman ladies cheer as your coin pops out.
The tour lasted for over two hours. You are taken through typical homes of Roman aristocrats and commoners, with well laid underground sewage system and even public bathes. They take you through their culinary details, their domestic utensils, their primeval furniture, possible lifestyle, social classification and general demography. The patterns of their sewage strike me because they are similar to what I saw in Asia Minor, especially at the city of Ephesus, now in modern Turkey, where more elaborate versions of these ancient infrastructures are preserved.
You remember Areoye Oyebola's explosive book, Blackman's Dilemma, as you explore the rustic sophistication of the ancient Roman architecture and various improvisations that made life comfortable in their time. You wonder what African villages and homes were like 2000 years ago. Perhaps, a good pointer would be to check what our rural communities are like now? No doubt, some are still trapped in prehistoric abyss where the future is shrouded in darkness and development of any sort is a mystical mirage. Perhaps, why we are where we are now is rooted in what we were in those ancient years gone by where time simply disappeared and our people emerged from the other side of history to rejoin the human race!
The point in Oyebola's book was that despite the natural and existential problems that faced the Negroid race in their quest for survival through the ages, the race never really rose to great inventions or evolve any significant technological solution to our problems. What is probably worse today is that there are no evidences that we are out of that placid and obtuse mode, except that we now have a highly developed consumerist palate!
Yes, agreed that the city of Rome of the early centuries had such a poor sewage system that human wastes littered the streets, hurled out by servants from the homes of the nobles and commoners alike, posing acute health hazards that possibly claimed hundreds of thousand lives annually, yet in the end, the Romans did come to grips with the problem and evolved a solution. But, Africans mostly adapted, succumbed or perished in the face of nature's cruel exactions, rather than confront or strive until solutions are found.
Well, these are largely Oyebola's provocative ruminations in his controversial book, which I am often reminded of each time I observe the evolution of other societies. People that merely adapt or succumb to their problems rather than face them down are ultimately destined to the lowest rungs in the pedestal of human achievements. I do hope that is not the story of Nigeria which at 50, now looks back at the 60s as the golden era of our political development, since today, our political culture and the actors have become pale caricature of our recent past. Suddenly, the standard of political engagement, statecraft, public policy, vision and achievements from the barely little resources, which the Ziks, Awos and Balewas established durable infrastructures in their time, now seemed so far advanced that it appeared like we may need another 50 years to attain the standard of the past! Meanwhile, the future is rushing upon us at a digital speed!
Lest I forget, we were talking about tours, not politics! Our tour ends with a three course Austrian meal, surprisingly delicious. Time to return to Vienna, back to our digital 21st century. We have a great night of closing dinner ahead of us at the IPI conference, plus awards to 60 Heroes of the Media from around the world. It was a ceremony that evoked tears as the citations of the heroes are read and Harold Evans, with his voice cracking with deep emotions, made an evocative speech that left some searching for their handkerchiefs. Mike Awoyinfa, in my view, one of Nigeria's greatest and life-long reporters, has promised to share vignettes of that night with his readers. That is, if he is not lost into his new-fangled world of homiletics. Next time you are in Vienna though, try Carnuntum, if you have the time. It's probably a great way to break from the tedium of digital world of Vienna where things work too efficiently for comfort. I mean, I am a Nigerian, a Lagosian for that matter!