Monday, July 18, 2011

When in Rome

A little over a thousand years ago, the Romans chased Alba's inhabitants off of their little hill and across the River Escoutay. They built an outpost of their empire on the plain below the village, which became a thriving city, with a forum, luxurious homes, a temple, baths, and a 3,000-seat theater.

No one knows why the Roman city disappeared and Alba's inhabitants moved back up onto their hill; nor can anyone say just how long it took for the earth to swallow up the old city. We do know that once it had been lost, it took centuries to find again.

The theater was excavated and partially restored in the mid-twentieth century. Now, every summer, the Alba circus festival hosts shows there. On long summer evenings, there's no need for lights - the theater was designed so that the sun fills it with soft light without blinding the players. The acoustics are grand, as long as they remember to chase the frogs out of the canal that runs behind the stage before the show starts.

Saturday night, seated on giant volcanic stones warmed all day by the sun, while we waited for La Compagnie XY to perform their acrobatic show "Le Grand C," we wondered what it must have been like when the theater was more than a majestic ghost of its former self, when the stands were covered and the canal played host to miniature naval battles. But when the acrobats sped nimbly onto the stage and began to scale, swing, spin, and toss each other against a backdrop of sunset and vineyards, the hour of pure grace more than made up for all that time had swallowed up.

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