Re: LUDI NOVI ROMANI MMDCCLXXIV - VIRTUAL CHARIOT RACE, First Semifinal
Cn. Cornelius Lentulus, quaestor, praefectus rei publicae administrandae, curator rei informaticae, pontifex
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Lentulus P. Annaeo aedili optimo s. p. d.
Heck, I lost first place, P. Placide, aedilis optime, does that mean I am not in the final? Thank you for the lovely virtual show, and good luck to my friend tr. pl. Sex. Lucilius Tutor, vir censorius.
Io Concordia, Io Ludi Novi Romani, vivant aediles Placidus et Paterculus!
CN. LENT. Q. PONT.
Il venerdì 12 marzo 2021, 03:08:54 CET, P. Annaeus Constantinus Placidus, aedilis curulis <ugo.coppola1970@...> ha scritto:
Publius Annæus Constantinus Placidus omnibus in Foro s.p.d.
You are about to read my account of the First
Semifinal of the Virtual Chariot Race for the LUDI NOVI ROMANI
2774 a.U.c. The narrative is, as usual for me, very long and
very detailed, with lots of characters and lots of events; it is
mostly comedic in tone, but it also includes serious passages.
Most importantly, in this narrative I am costantly mixing
ancient and modern. So you have a Chariot Race happening exactly
as the Chariot Races used to happen in Ancient Rome's golden
years, but you've also got television, cameras, smartphones etc.
etc. This is because the temporal setting of the story is TODAY
rather than Roman Republican times, and the spatial setting of
the story is not Rome, but the fictional city of Nova Roma,
which is an idealized, stylized representation of what Ancient
Rome would be, were it alive and thriving today. The narrative
is written in the guise of a script for a fictional television
Optime valete omnes,
Immediately after the pan finishes, the shot changes to the inside of the TV broadcast center, on top of the Circus. The camera is behind the crew. Director Tullia Celeris is sitting in the center, her back to the camera. Next to her, on both sides, male and female TV operators are sitting and looking at monitors. They are all very young, and all of them wear white, shell-shaped civilian face masks. Suddenly the entrance door is heard opening and closing with a loud slam. Placidus enters from rear left. He wears completely anti-historical clothes, consisting in his full Italian firefighter operational uniform: a heavy black fireproof jacket with reflective yellow/silver stripes on his wrists and along the front of the jacket, fireproof trousers with yellow stripes, heavy military-like black amphibian boots on his feet, long fireproof gloves on his hands featuring two reflective stripes and the National Firefighters Corps’ flames-and-axes logo, and a red protective helmet on his head, which features a dark-golden visor and the same flame logo as a 3D relief item on his forehead. His face is not seen, hidden behind the mirrored visor. He has come in straight from active firefighting duty. He steps heavily with his boots on the marble floor. Tullia hears him and turns. At the same time, the entire crew also spins on their respective chairs… the boys are happy and give big thumbs up to Placidus, the girls scream out excitedly and survey Placidus’s uniform from head to toe – their eyes are a mix of dreamy admiration and love toward what they regard as a real-life, uniformed superhero.
tullia (to Placidus, very happy). PLACIDE!! (Pause.) You’re finally here! (Grabbing her hips with both hands, ironically and with a hint of sarcasm.) Been putting out fires all around Nova Roma again, haven’t you?
placidus (lifting his visor, slightly tired). Well, yes, Tullia, I have – quite literally, as you can see. (He giggles.) No, sorry, I really did. I’ve just finished my shift. Am I late?
tullia (giggling as well). Placide, did you bother to take a look outside? There’s nobody out there. (She smiles.) So there’s no point in having a parade. There’s no point in you or anybody else doing, say, a welcoming lap around the racetrack. There’s no point in having the racers come out and set up on the starting line. There’s no point in absolutely anything of this. So, indeed, there is no point in coming early or late.
placidus (relieved, exhaling heavily).
Pheeew! (He unties his helmet and removes it.) Do
you mean I actually have time to get rid of all this
stuff and change
into more fitting clothing?!
placidus (very formally). Ladies and gentlemen, domini dominæque, iuvenes, pueri puellæque… in one word, everybody in front of your TV screens… welcome here to the First Semifinal of the Virtual Chariot Race for the Ludi Novi Romani 2021! (Loud applause – this time clearly perceivable as fake, as it rapidly fades in and out with no definite start and no definite stop.) This is Publius Annæus Constantinus Placidus and I’m talking to you LIVE from the Circus Maximus in Nova Roma. (Pause. The applause does not stop – it fades back in and back out.) Excuse me for a moment, folks. I have to say a word to my great director Tullia up there in the broadcast center. (He pushes his earphone in his right ear.) Tullia? [tullia. Yes, Ædilis? Placidus giggles.] I can’t understand what’s up with you every single time. I was Placidus to you not later than six minutes ago, and now I’m Ædilis? Did I graduate to anything in this extremely brief lapse of time? (He giggles again.)
tullia (from earphone). Six minutes ago you were here, Ædilis. It was the intro. Now you’re on the racetrack. It’s official. Simply by virtue of you being on the racetrack, you’re not just Placidus any longer. You’re Nova Roma’s beloved Ædilis Curulis.
placidus. Oh. Okay, then. (Pause.) Regardless of what or who I am, Tullia, what’s all of this fake applause thing? Excuse my language, but to me it’s just crap. (Pause.) You have amply made your point, with your opening pan, and also earlier, when I was up there with you, that there’s no audience. Everybody knows why there’s no audience, it’s not worth repeating. Still, I’m hearing applause and cheering as if this whole 10000-seater arena was filled to its utmost capacity. Again, forgive me, but this is plain silly.
tullia. (calmly and gently) My dear Ædilis, maybe you still don’t have a clear vision of what you’re hosting. (Shot on her.) This is not real. This is a show. Covid-19 is real. People dying everyday around the world are real. Intensive care wards in hospitals everywhere on the brink of collapsing are real. Even us behind the scenes, being forced to wear these stupid muzzles on our faces, while you’re privileged enough not to… (Pause. Slight giggle from Placidus)… we’re real. I’m real. You’re real. The people sitting opposite you are real. The chariot owners, their racers, are real. But everything else is not real. It’s entertainment. It’s a show – we’re putting on a show. We have to make people watching this on TV feel like they’re watching a show. After all, Ædilis, who do you think we’re running this race for? For a live audience? (Pause. She shakes her head.) Not really. Sure, if a live audience was there, they would enjoy the show. But they would get nothing else from it. The racers do get something, because there’s the Nova Roma Virtual Chariot Racing championship always going on. We’re not running our races for a live audience. If anybody, we’re running the races for the people who actually take their time to set up their chariots and bring them here. It’s them, the people who actually run, the ones we’re setting up this show for. Fake applause is part of the show. So you do your job down there and I do mine up here. Part of my job is putting applause and shouting where applause and shouting are supposed to be, even if there’s nobody applauding and shouting. (She smiles. The shot goes back to Placidus, who has suddenly become serious and ready to do his job.)
placidus. I agree with everything you say, amica mea. And I accept everything that you do up there. [tullia (from earphone). Thanks, Ædilis. Now you may start. Pause. Placidus looks into the camera.] Okay, folks out there in TV-land, sorry for this short and unforeseen diversion. I am really ready now. First of all I would like to say hello and welcome to our most honourable magistrates sitting in front of me… (Pause. The shot changes to the magistrates.) From left to right, my Plebeian colleague Marcus Aurelius Cotta Iovis, my mate in the Curule Ædilitas Aulus Iulius Paterculus… (Pause. As Placidus calls the magistrates, they get up one by one, accompanied by faint pre- recorded applause in the background. Paterculus holds a red nappa in his right hand and a blue surgical mask is hanging from his neck, but he is not wearing it. Placidus resumes.)… and our esteemed Consuls, Quintus Arrius Nauta and Domina Aula Tullia Scholastica. (Pause. To Scholastica) Domina Scholastica, thanks very much for taking some of your precious time to come here. That’s very kind of you. (Pause. The shot moves to her. scholastica. Thank you, dear Ædilis, for taking some of your own time off your precious macronational work to set up and organize all of this. You have such a wonderful dedication to everything you do. Pause. The shot goes back to Placidus, who is slightly blushing.)
placidus (smiling). Thanks, domina. I really don’t deserve any of this. I’m just a very humble firefighter who just happens to wear a toga prætexta every now and then. (Short pause. Tullia is heard giggling from the earphone.) Anyway, I think it’s time to meet the racers now… (Pause. He looks up to the broadcasting center and sees that Tullia is looking behind her. He pushes on his earphone.) Tullia, what’s up?
tullia (initially from the earphone, then the shot moves to her). Sorry, Placide, I heard the door opening and closing. You know all too well that nobody’s supposed to enter here while a broadcast is in progress. Unless you’re expecting somebody.
placidus (suddenly remembering). Oh! Yes, I am. Please let him in. (Pause. A man, younger, shorter and plumper than Placidus, appears in one of the windows of the broadcast center. He has a beard and a very sunny, happy face. He is dressed with a very elegant, and very historically correct, toga angusticlavia, and he appears to wear nothing underneath it. He gives a broad smile. and makes wild waving gestures with his right hand, held up high, to salute Placidus. The shot moves behind him and Tullia.)
tullia. Who is this, Ædilis? I suppose he’s a friend of yours, otherwise he wouldn’t be here at all. (Pause. The man smiles to her, another very broad, sunny smile.)
placidus. Of course he’s a friend. Indeed, I’ll tell you more. He may be the only real friend I currently have outside of my colleagues. (Pause. More formal) Tullia, please meet my current and wonderful scuba diving instructor, Manius Flavius Salvus. You can safely shake his hand, he’s just been test-swabbed and came out negative. (Pause. Tullia and Salvus shake hands.) Tullia, I love that man. He and his team brought me very safely down to more than 108 feet in Sicily last summer. [tullia (from Placidus’s earphone). Wooooooowww! That’s something! Pause. Back to Placidus.] Yes, wow indeed. He actually did. (Pause. In a darker tone) Then something happened I don’t want to talk about, and I couldn’t get a certification with him. (Pause. More neutral) But still I love him dearly, and I’m going back to Sicily with him next summer to get that card again. Please give him a mic and put him on the PA, I want to talk with him. (Pause. Tullia gives Salvus a hand-held mic and pushes a button on her console. Back to Placidus.) Salve, can you hear me? At last I can see you face-to-face instead of only through a computer screen.
salvus (smiling broadly, as above, and with a Sicilian accent, his voice booming through the PA and echoing in the empty Circus). Hello, Ugo! (Pause.) No, wait, what’s your name here? It’s not even Cosworth… (Pause. Placidus laughs.) Oh, right. (He remembers.) Salve, Ædilis Placide. Is that right, isn’t it? You’re a high ranking person in here, and congrats for that.
placidus. Oh no, amice. I’m wearing different clothes from the wetsuit I had when you taught me, but I’m the same person you taught to. Nothing’s changed. (Pause.) Anway, let’s not lose any more time with greetings. Come down here, we’ve got a race to chronicle! (He giggles. The shot moves again to the outside of the broadcast center. Salvus is seen pulling out a white surgical mask and wearing it, then he comes rapidly down the stairs and joins Placidus in the middle of the racetrack. Fake applause in the background. Placidus introduces him formally.) Ladies and gentlemen in front of your TV screen, my assistant chronicler for this wonderful Virtual Chariot Race… from Panormus, Sicily, dominus Manius Flavius Salvus! (Pause. He raises Salvus’s left arm. Huge, roaring pre-recorded applause. Salvus is slightly embarassed. He talks to Placidus in a low voice.)
salvus (slightly muffled through his mask). Placide, apart that I don’t deserve any of this… [placidus (overlapping and smiling) You do, amice. You amply do.]… I’m a soldier. I know nothing at all about chariot racing. How am I supposed to chronicle if I don’t know what I’m watching?
placidus. Don’t worry, buddy. (Pause.) First of all, remove that silly thing off your mouth. You’re my guest here and I allow you to. I’m in command. (He lets out a slight laugh while thinking of his actual ‘in-command’ role in his real-life job. Salvus laughs as well and removes his mask.) As I was saying, buddy… (Pause. Salvus is very happy about Placidus calling him ‘buddy’, as he did during their scuba training.)…while I introduce the racers, you go sit there next to my colleague Paterculus. (Pause. Placidus points to Paterculus opposite him.) Patercule, please, you and Cotta Iovis move one seat to the right so that my friend can sit next to you. (Pause. Paterculus and Cotta do.) He will explain you everything.
salvus. Thank you, Placide. (He goes to sit next to Paterculus.)
placidus. You’re welcome, buddy. (Pause. Placidus pushes on his earphone.) Tullia, please, give me the starting grid for this First Semifinal. The three in the first batch. (Pause. Shot on the electronic billboard on top of the Circus. Three lines come out of it, each one pulled by an animated silhouette of a racing chariot, respectively in bright green, bright red and bright blue.)
LANE CHARIOT OWNER DRIVER TEAM
I Phoenix Furiens M. Hortensia Maior Hyppolita PRÆSINA
II Nova Roma Cn. Cornelius Lentulus Dorothea RUSSATA
III Titans’ Disaster Sex. Lucilius Tutor Stoicus VENETA
After all the lines have disappeared from the screen, the shot goes back to Placidus, who is chatting with Salvus, sitting in the front row.
placidus. OK, bro… (Salvus smiles, hearing Placidus call him with another nickname from their training period.) I hope you have a little bit more understanding on what you’re about to witness.
salvus. Yes, Placide, I think I got a clear picture of it all, your friend Paterculus is good. (Pause. He smiles to Paterculus, who smiles back and gives Salvus a thumb-up.) Not a detailed picture, mind you. A very broad one. (He giggles.) The only thing I’m a bit doubtful about is racing tactics. Your friend listed them, but I don’t quite know what he meant…
placidus (patting Salvus on the shoulder). My friend, never mind the tactics. You shall understand them when you see them in action here on the racetrack, and I guarantee you that (giggling) sparks will fly. Quite literally.
salvus. We shall see to that, Placide. We’ll see.
placidus. Sure, buddy. (Pause.) Before we start, I have just another little thing to do, which is introducing the racers. I see some familiar faces in here, I’ve got a feeling that this is going to be quick. (Pause. He approaches Hortensia on Lane I.) Domina Hortensia Maior Fabiana Faustina, welcome back to the racetrack, with a new chariot and… (he looks up) a new charioteer… a young, strong, and pretty girl! (Pause. Shot on Hippolyta, on the chariot. Her face is beautiful, like a modern fashion model, but she also has sharp, sculpted features – typical of a strong, rough woman. She has very long blond hair, wavy but unkempt as well. She holds her Amazon helmet under her right arm. She smiles at Placidus and gives him a thumb-up. Placidus resumes talking to Hortensia. She is wearing a face mask made out of fine white silk.) Sorry again, domina, if we couldn’t get your full Roman name on the billboard, but you see, that’s all the space we have.
hortensia (very gently). My dear Ædilis Placide, you know very well that you’re way too kind to apologize to me for anything. And, like domina Scholastica said a few minutes ago, your kindness also shows in the fact that, in spite of everything you have to go through in your life outside of here, you did manage to organize this wonderful race. (Pause. Placidus blushes slightly.) Of course I couldn’t miss it, could I? (Pause.) As for my new charioteer… well, I’ve traveled quite a bit before the damned pandemic hit the entire known world, and on a trip to Scythia last November I happened to watch this fantastic Amazon girl rider having her way with a pure-breed horse like a man… or, I may say, better than a man. She’s extremely fierce, she’s strong-willed and strong-armed, and, as I hope you’ve been able to see, she’s got her looks, which is a plus.
placidus (embarassed). Er… yes, I’m quite aware of her… er… good looks. (He giggles.) Sorry, domina, I’m a man. I can’t help that.
hortensia. Never mind, Ædilis. Please go on.
placidus (still a bit embarassed). Okay, er… (Pause.) All best of luck for this race to you and your new pilot. [hortensia (overlapping). Thanks again, Ædilis. Pause. Placidus moves to Lane II, where Lentulus is standing next to his old-but-refurbished racing chariot, Nova Roma. Placidus is enthusiastic at seeing his long-time assistant and friend. He is wearing a white surgical mask.] LENTULE!! What a pleasure! You’ve managed to enter your chariot once again! [He moves to hug him, but Lentulus stops him with a gesture of his right hand.]
lentulus. Stop right there, Placide amice. (Pause.) I know you love me dearly as a friend, but you’re also our Ædilis Curulis, so behave as such. Be dignified. (Pause. Placidus smiles and distances himself.) Not to mention your wonderful uniform and your position in real life… you’re in the Law Enforcement business, and that gives you both the right to exercise your power, and the duty to be dignified and correct – even with close friends. (Pause. Placidus smiles again and makes a small bow, then resumes talking.)
placidus. Yes, my friend, you’re right as usual. (Pause.) It’s just that I still have to get used to my position – both here and outside of here. Most probably I never will. (Pause. He looks up to Dorothea on the chariot.) But apart from this, please allow me to repeat that it’s indeed a great pleasure to see both of you once again you and your great lioness up there, helming your chariot… or is she a panther? (Pause. Dorothea lifts her head up high, with pride, and lets out a long laugh. Long, wild brown hair, a body armour, but no helmet and no face mask.)
dorothea (sarcastically, to Placidus). You can call me whatever animal you want, Ædilis, but the point is that I am an animal. And I’m going to show that first of all to that made-up chick here next to me in Lane I. (She laughs again. Hippolyta, in Lane I, looks at her with a snobbish attitude. While Placidus has just realized that this is going to be his first-ever race featuring two woman racers, and an amazed sparks-are-indeed-going-to-fly look quickly passes on his face, Lentulus tries to shush up his charioteer.)
lentulus. Dorothea, please behave. You’re talking to a magistrate.
dorothea (still a bit sarcastic). Yeah, I know. (Pause. To Lentule). Master Lentule, you freed me a long time ago, and I thank you for that. Now I’m yours, but you know you can’t change the way I am. (Proudly) Nobody can.
lentulus (humbly, to Placidus). Sorry about her, Placide. As you say in Italy, I wanted my bicycle, now I’ve got to pedal. (He giggles.)
placidus (giggling as well). Yes, my friend, I get that. (Pause.) Well, I wish you good luck to you and your… er, animal up there. (Pause. Lentulus gives Placidus a thumb-up while Dorothea laughs again. Placidus moves to Lane III.) Hey, another familiar face here too… (He moves to Lucilius. He also wears a white respirator mask like the TV crew members. He is unconfortable with it.) Lucili, as a former Ædilician colleague of yours, I must say I’m pleased to find you here on the racetrack as well. And I’m also pleased to see your great Stoicus at the helm once again.
lucilius (adjusting his mask, which is slipping down his nose) Yes, Ædilis, it’s been quite a while since I left my footprints… (Pause. He looks down and sees he is, ironically, not leaving any footprints at all…)… er, since I last stepped with my calcei here on the sand in the racetrack. As for Stoicus, well, he too was looking forward to coming back here controlling the reins of two mighty horses… (Pause. He adjusts his mask again.) Oh, to hell with this stupid thing. I wish all this dreaded disease would just fly away and disappear. Don’t you, Ædilis? [placidus (slightly overlapping) Yes, Lucili amice, I do too. Pause. Lucilius resumes.] Anyway, as you can see, Stoicus is fully primed and ready to race. (Pause. Placidus looks up at Stoicus on the chariot. He is indeed ready – his brand new body armor is already correctly tied, and he has already worn his protective helmet. The look on his face is extremely dignified and serious and, faithfully to his name, he shows no sign of emotion at all.)
placidus. Well, Lucili, I can see that he’s amply ready to race. (Pause.) Primed… er… (he chuckles slightly)… I’m afraid I can’t say that for sure, just looking at him.
lucilius (giving Placidus a thumb-up). Yes, that’s precisely his attitude: keeping it all inside of himself. I like him a lot just because of that.
placidus (sort-of thinking aloud) Well, Lucili, keeping everything inside of oneself is perfect in this frenetic world’s everyday life, but I wonder how much he’s going to hold that up during a wild chariot race. (Pause.) Anyway, right now, as with the others, I can only wish good luck to you and him for this great race. (Pause. Lucilius bows and Placidus goes back to his monitor next to the front row bleachers, where Salvus is sitting at ease, but the seat to his right is empty: Paterculus is not there. Placidus is puzzled and thinks aloud again… Where’s he gone?? Then he remembers having seen him with the red nappa in his hand: he is going to start the race. Indeed, he looks behind him and sees Paterculus, behind the starting line, approaching the official starter’s podium next to the spina wall. Placidus looks relieved.)
salvus. What’s up, Ugo… er, Placide? Were you looking for your friend? He’s right there (pointing to Paterculus), just about to climb on that small red pulpit.
placidus (giggling at Salvus’s definition). Pulpit… erm, buddy, to us that’s a podium. The starter’s podium. Now my colleague is going to officially set them all off.
salvus. Yes, I know. (Pause.) I’ve seen something similar on TV in other… er, other contexts than this.
placidus. Good for you, buddy. Just one more thing before we start. When I say ‘over to you’ or something similar or anyway I invite you to talk, just pick up where I left off and continue. OK? (He makes a diver’s A-OK sign with three fingers. Salvus replies with the same sign. Placidus turns to Paterculus.) All right, Patercule collega. You may go. (Pause. Shot on Paterculus. He has worn a white respirator too, by now. He looks at Placidus, who gives him a thumb-up.) Amice, you know what to do just right after you start, don’t you?
paterculus. Sure, collega. (Pause.) You taught me. Indeed, you taught us all.
placidus. Well, not that I’m aware of, but go ahead. (Pause. Paterculus lifts his nappa up high.)
paterculus. Attention, pilots! (Pause.) Three… two… one… (He drops the nappa.) GO!!! (The horses run away furiously. Immediately, Paterculus jumps up the spina wall and stands there, proudly erect and motionless, a true Roman Ædilis. Then he shakes off just a little bit of dust from his toga, which is still immaculate, and he walks across the racetrack to his seat, accompanied by pre-recorded applause. He goes to sit next to Salvus, who is amazed.)
salvus. Wow, Placide! (Pause.) Were you actually the first to do that stunt? That’s wonderful!
placidus. Yes, and there’s really nothing ‘wow’ about it. Once I was the starter, and I didn’t want to get my toga dirty, so I improvised. (Pause.) Glad to know somebody’s learned from me. Anyway, there’s no more time to talk, as we’re into…
(Shot on the racetrack, Placidus starts his chronicle.) All the chariots are definitely up to a very good start, I see. Stoicus on Titans’ Disaster, in Lane III, advances slightly more than Dorothea on Nova Roma in Lane III. Hippolyta on Phoenix is momentarily left behind… apparently the lone boy on track is way more determined than the two girls, isn’t he, buddy?
salvus. Well, yes, Placide. What did you say he was in everyday life? A philosopher? A thinker? He doesn’t look like that to me – he looks way more like a soldier. One of my kind. (He smiles)
placidus. Maybe it’s his Stoicism indeed – his way to keep an inner calm among all possible turmoil – which makes him as strong as a valiant soldier in battle, and maybe even more. I guess we should ask him, but I doubt he’ll answer. (Pause. Shot on the racetrack.) Now look at that, buddy. (While Stoicus and Hippolyta slow down to turn around the bend in the safest and most possibly correct way, Dorothea passes it extremely close to the tip of the wall. She almost risks scraping her left wheel against the wall. Once again Salvus is amazed. Placidus looks at him.)
salvus. Placide, have you seen what she’s done?? But is she actually… crazy? She nearly broke her wheel!
placidus. Buddy, what was I telling you earlier, about seeing tactics in action rather than explaining them? That’s one. (He smiles.) I’ve seen her doing that way too many times to know that she’s not crazy at all. That’s her tactic. While the others slow down in order to take the bend without any harm, she doesn’t change her pace and gets near the wall. Sure, that’s a big risk of actually hitting it. But, as you see, she’s now leading, so it was worth the risk. Would you please continue up to the second straight line and second curve, then I pick it up again for the end of the first lap? (Pause. Salvus, still a bit shaken, is perplexed. Placidus utters the code-words.) Over to you, buddy.
salvus. Oh, OK. (getting back into it) Let’s see now. Stoicus on Titans’ Disaster, which up to the first bend was solidly in the lead, is now paired with Dorothea on Nova Roma, but Hippolyta on Phoenix Furiens is quickly catching up with her. (Pause and shot on the racetrack. Hippolyta bends over to the right, she grabs some sand off the racetrack and, getting momentarily nearer to Dorothea, throws the dust right in her face. Dorothea is blinded for a second, she lets go of her reins, slows down and Hippolyta overtakes her. Immediately she starts shouting. The absence of the audience makes it possible for the cameras on the bleachers to pick up her shouting, which is unusually clearly heard.)
dorothea (shouting). You bastard! You cheater! You rabid bitch!! If I catch you I’ll rip your head off your neck and then I’ll pee into your oh-so-nice silver helmet!! (Pause. Shot back to Salvus, whose mouth has gaped. He opens and closes it twice without saying a word, like a goldfish. Placidus is amused. Then Salvus finally manages to speak. He stutters.)
salvus. Pla-Placide! (Pause.) Now you don— you don’t tell me that all of this I’ve just seen – and heard! – is actually allowed in here. OK, I’ve seen and heard worse in my battlefield days on active duty, but I frankly didn’t expect to witness that sort of thing also in here.
placidus. My dear friend, not only it’s allowed… (chuckling) It’s normal. It’s routine. It’s tactics. It happens at almost every single race. (Pause. Salvus is relieved and a wide smile appears on his face.) Also, about the language, that’s just the tip of the iceberg of what normally happens in here. Which reminds me of one thing… would you excuse me for just a minute, buddy? [salvus. Of course. Placidus pushes on his earphone.] Tullia? [tullia (from earphone). Tell me, Ædilis.] Tullia, please, really you can’t call me just Placidus? [tullia (partly apologizing). Not while you’re on the racetrack, Ædilis Placide. Now tell me.] OK, let’s see how far can we take this game. (Pause. Tullia laughs from the earphone.) Tullia, you’ve always got a one-second delay in the audio up there. If you hear anything worse than that, be ready with your hand on that big censoring red button up there. (Pause.) In the past, of course, I did that on purpose. But now I really wasn’t expecting to hear all of that so loud and clear. I forgot that there’s no audience. (He giggles.) Anyway, back to the race. This little amount of trouble to Dorothea has made her slip back in third place. Hippolyta is a very close second to Stoicus, who took advantage of the distractions behind him to regain a bit of his lost lead. (Shot on the racetrack.) Now the chariots are doing the second bend, and while Stoicus and Hippolyta can take their time to actually do it with care, so to speak, Dorothea speeds up, passes it nearer to the wall and pairs up with Hippolyta, or very nearly so. (Pause.) So, on the finish line, Stoicus on Titans’ Disaster crosses first, followed by Hippolyta on Phoenix Furiens and, very very very close, Dorothea on Nova Roma. (Pause. Shot on the dolphins pole above the Circus. The second dolphin bows down.) I’ve just seen that one more dolphin above there isn’t straight any longer, which can mean only one thing: we’ve just started…
salvus (looking at the dolphins pole in his monitor). Hey, Placide. The dolphins. Nice touch. Just like in the old times.
placidus. Well, buddy, we’re all about reconstructionism here. If we can do anything in a properly historical way, we just do it. (Pause.) Would you care to start this lap?
salvus. Of course. I’m honored. (Pause.) Phoenix Furiens and Nova Roma have restarted their powerful attack on Titans’ Disaster, which is now slightly leading again. Now Stoicus is slightly accelerating… is that a tactic, Placide amice?
placidus. Let me see. (He pulls his smartphone out of a fold in his toga, he turns it on, he slides a finger over the display and reads: “Hurry in the straight lines”.) Yes, buddy, that’s it. (He shows the smartphone to Salvus long enough for him to read the line about Stoicus, but not long enough for him to read the other lines. In spite of this, Salvus smiles and resumes narrating.)
salvus. OK, folks at home, as you have just heard from my mate Placidus here next to me… (Pause. Placidus smiles)… Stoicus’s chosen tactic has allowed him to set himself in first position once again. But here comes the first bend, so let’s see how it goes. (Shot on the racetrack. Salvus is heard off-screen.) Stoicus speeds up just a little bit more, then he slows down exactly at the most critical point of the whole bend – the tip of the spina wall – so he manages to go around it very easily, very correctly, and also without deviating from his proper path. Hippolyta follows, almost exactly like her opponent has done, and a bit later here comes Dorothea at full speed and passing very near the spina, as previously. Placide, if you forgive me the cheap joke, these people are so good at going around those bends, that they’re not afraid at all of getting the bends!! (He laughs. Placidus laughs too.)
placidus. That joke isn’t cheap at all, buddy. Instead it’s very good. Only, I would kindly ask you not to do it again, because it reminds me too much of a person who I used to do that joke with, and who I thought was very similar to you, but he later turned out to be completely different.
salvus. Oh, I do have an idea about who that may be. Isn’t his name somewhere along the lines of Marcus Petronius Ior—
placidus (interrupting him just in time). Yes. That’s him. (Darkly) I don’t want to talk about him, because something related to you happened last year between me and him. Something I didn’t like, and I don’t want to talk about that either. (More neutral) Let’s talk about something else.
salvus. Yes, Placide, I understand. Let’s talk about the race. (Pause.) Up to now in this lap there have been no dirty tricks, and I really hope that there aren’t going to be any more of them…
placidus. I hope too, buddy, but if I were you I honestly wouldn’t hold my breath.
salvus. Of course I’m not, Placide. I’m a scuba instructor. I’m not a freediver. (He laughs again. His laughter is contagious.)
placidus (laughing) Ha-ha-ha-ha… Bro, you have such a wonderful way of making everything I say so much lighter than it actually is. I love you dearly, brother. (Pause. Salvus is moved by Placidus actually using the full word rather than as a nickname, and quietly whispers: Thank you, brother.) Now can I please do the rest of the lap?
salvus. Suit yourself, Placide.
placidus. Thanks, buddy. (Pause.) So, while everything went well for all three racers in the first bend, the race is again developing on the second straight line. Stoicus on Titans’ Disaster keeps leading, very slightly ahead of Nova Roma’s Dorothea, while, also very close to her, Hippolyta is insulting her in what sounds to my ears like ancient Afghan… but I don’t understand a single word of it. Do you, buddy?
salvus. No, I don’t. And yet I’ve spent quite some time in Afghanistan…
placidus. So we can allow ourselves not to care about that at all and to care just about the race. (He chuckles. Shot on the racetrack.) And what I’m seeing just now is Hippolyta about to pull out another dirty trick on Dorothea. (Pause. Hippolyta is seen unrolling a whip behind the front of her chariot. She snaps it first in the air above her, then on Dorothea, whose body armor covers her breasts, her abdomen and her back, but not her shoulders. Snap! Hippolyta’s whip hits hard on Dorothea’s left shoulder, leaving a faint red mark. She winces, then she does something unclear and unseen to Hippolyta. Nothing happens. Hippolyta then reaches her neck out to Dorothea and she also does something unseen to her. Dorothea puts her arm in front of her eyes, slows down, but this does not allow Hippolyta to overtake her. The positions remain unchanged. Placidus pushes on his earphone.) Tullia, please, give me an instant replay of that from another angle. And zoom on those two, er, maids. (Pause. Salvus is heard laughing loudly next to Placidus.)
salvus. “Maids”… (laughing) You’re quite something, Placide. No wonder the main host of these Virtual Race events is always you. Nobody beats you. (He laughs again. Pause. The shot changes to a slo-mo instant replay of the scene, seen from another camera on the bleachers. Immediately after Hippolyta has hit Dorothea, she spits in Hippolyta’s face. The latter turns sharply, and the spit hits the left side of her helmet. Immediately after that, Hippolyta spits in Dorothea’s face. She wears no helmet, and the target is hit. Dorothea wipes off the spit, but she does not slow down enough for Hippolyta to speed past her. The shot goes back to Placidus. He and Salvus are chuckling together.)
placidus. Seen that, buddy? This has suddenly turned into a spitting match. Not even two cowboys in the Wild West could do any better. That’s why… “maids”.
salvus. Indeed, Placide. You hit the nail right on the head. As always. (Pause. Dorothea is passing right opposite the point where Placidus is broadcastig from. Placidus teases her.)
placidus. Now you see, my dear, what’s the DISadvantage of not wearing a helmet?
dorothea. (shouting wildly, while racing along the straight line) SHUT UP, ÆDILIS!! (Pause. Placidus is struck and he does shut up for a few seconds.)
salvus. Placide amice, I have a feeling that if that girl put her racing horses where her mouth is, she’d be world champion in chariot racing. (He giggles. Placidus looks at him with admiration.)
placidus (jokingly) Congrats, buddy! You’re becoming good at this. So good, in fact, that I allow you the honor to conclude this lap, from the second bend onwards.
salvus. And I very gladly do that, amice. (Pause.) Well, all of the hustle-and-bustle happening now between Dorothea, Hippolyta and, yes, you as well… (Pause. Placidus laughs.)… may have contributed to switching their respective positions along the straight line, but now she’s just done such a masterful turn of the bend… so close, in fact, to the the spina wall that I can almost hear the hubcap of her left wheel scraping the wall… but, luckily for her, she doesn’t. So here’s how they cross the finish line in the second lap: Titans’ Disaster driven by Stoicus leads the race, Nova Roma with Dorothea is back in second place and, extremely close to it, Phoenix Furiens driven by Hippolyta. Now I guess that the third dolphin above there is about to go to sleep… isn’t it, Placide? (Shot of the dolphins pole, where the third dolphin bows down.)
placidus. Exactly, buddy. Just as I said before, you’re becoming much better than me at this. I’ll tell you something… (ironically) YOU host the next race and I rest!
salvus (chuckling). No, Placide. This is not my world. My world is up there in the cold waters in the lakes near Modicia, or in the warmer waters down in Sicily, but always with my trainees. That’s where my world is. This is your world. I ain’t taking your world away from you. Indeed, I advise you to keep a firm grip on it, because you’re the best. (Pause. Placidus smiles a childish smile to Salvus.)
placidus. Thanks, bro, you’re too kind. Everybody has something they’re best at. Yours is teaching how to dive, mine is NOT hosting chariot races, but let’s not go into that any further (chuckling) as we’ve got a magnificent race to finish, as indeed it’s just gone into…
salvus. I’ll let your start this, Placide. As I said, this is your terrain.
placidus. Thanks a lot, buddy. (Pause.) Well, now that this exciting race is heading towards its conclusion, I don’t think there’s time for tactics any longer, but in several years of chronicling these races I’ve got so much used to unusual things happening all the time, that I can’t really say anything more… can I, buddy?
salvus (shaking his head and chuckling) No, Placide, you can’t. I’ve been a personal witness of this up to now, I don’t think anything can change in the last lap.
placidus. I don’t think so either, unless Hippolyta employs another of her tricks… or better, Lady Hortensia’s tricks, as she’s the one who chose the tactic. She’s the bad girl in here, much worse than her charioteer. (Pause. While the slightly darker afternoon hour allows for the powerful halogen lights on the four corners of the Circus to light up faintly, Placidus eyes Hortensia sitting alone four rows behind the magistrates, and waves to her. Hortensia responds by barely lifting her hand and wiggling her fingers, as if she knew what Placidus is talking about. Lentulus is also sitting alone, in the row behind Hortensia’s and very distanced from her. The shot goes back to Placidus, who resumes his chronicle.) On the first straight line, Stoicus is still leading, but as Dorothea is lashing her horses like mad and getting closer and closer and closer, he’s starting to feel his lead somehow menaced by Dorothea… in other words, he’s starting to feel Dorothea’s breath on his neck. (Pause. To Salvus) Isn’t this what the professionals say all the time, buddy?
salvus. Yes, exactly, Placide. Where did you learn to talk “sport” like that?
placidus. Here in the Circus, buddy. That’s where. After having hosted these races for more than 10 years. (He laughs. Salvus joins him but they both stop.) Let’s look at the racetrack, bro. What d’you say? (Pause.) Over to you, buddy.
salvus (surprised). Placide! You can’t throw the ball at me like tha— [He is stopped by Placidus whispering in his hear: Buddy, the race!] Oh, OK. (Pause. Shot on the racetrack.) Hippolyta is wielding her whip again! Just as her and Dorothea are entering the first bend – the great Stoicus has already passed it perfectly – she lashes at Dorothea. The latter shifts her body to the right and Hippolyta misses! (Pause) Here she goes again… snap! But Dorothea ducks and she misses again! And in the meantime they’re into the bend… Dorothea is millimetrically right in NOT hitting the spina wall… but Hippolyta, who’s apparently busier in trying to hit Dorothea than in driving her chariot, miscalculates the speed and she DOES very nearly hit the wall… she scrapes it with the left side of her chariot! (Pause. Scraping noise, not too loud. The hubcap on Phoenix Furiens’s left wheel slowly starts to come loose.) Phew! What an excitement, folks! Too much excitement for me… I’m very much used to the extreme calm of deep waters, and this madman at my side… (Placidus laughs) is mercilessly putting me through all this, so at this point I’ll very gladly let him go on.
placidus (still partly laughing). Okay, buddy, I do understand. (Remembering from earlier) Your world, my world. I do see. So, where are we at? (Pause. Shot on the racetrack.) The three chariots are racing very near to each other. Competing. Clearly Dorothea must’ve realized that her chances to win, and thus to move to the Final, are very close to non-existent, but also second place means something – for the overall score in the Championship. So she’s trying to do whatever she can to keep herself there in the second spot, while at the same time trying to avoid all direct attacks on her from her direct opponent – that is, of course, Hippolyta, who obviously longs for the second place herself. (Pause.) Now he’s extending her whip again… high up in the air… she lunges at Dorothea’s right shoulder, but she suddenly swerves to the right and Hippolyta misses again. (Pause. Excited, rhytmical breathing from Salvus.) Buddy, you seem to be actually enjoying this!
salvus. Well, yes, Placide. Actually I am. (Pause. Very quick breathing, almost like a dog.) Please don’t stop.
placidus. I won’t stop only if you calm down, my friend. After everything you’ve done for me, I certainly won’t be the one who’s responsible for giving you a heart attack or something. (Pause. Salvus does calm down.) That’s better, buddy. (He pats Salvus on his right shoulder.) Let’s see how all of this ends up. I’d like you to do it, bro.
salvus (still excited but much calmer) Okay, Placide. Here goes Hippolyta with her whip again… arm in the air… she extends it… but while she’s aiming to the point of Dorothea’s back where she may hurt her the most, she commits the most fatal mistake in chariot racing, which is… (Pause. He points to Placidus.)
placidus. Always look in front of you?
salvus. Exactly, buddy. (Pause. Placidus smiles at being called ‘buddy’ himself.) She gets closer to the spina wall in the middle of the racetrack… and closer… and closer… oh no, I don’t want to watch this! (He mockingly covers his eyes with one hand. CRASH! The left wheel on Phoenix Furiens suddenly hits the spina wall. The small metal hubcap at its center comes completely off and it is shown rolling across the sand. Salvus resumes.) What a hit, folks. Literally. (He giggles.) The left wheel on Hippolyta’s chariot wobbles just as she’s coming out of the second bend… Dorothea having made it perfectly, of course… and while Stoicus on Titans’ Disaster crosses the finish line first and lifts both his arms in the air, triumphantly, but with just a shadow of a smile going across his impassible face… (Pause.)… you conclude this, Placide.
placidus. Very gladly so, buddy. As my great mate Salvus has just said, while Stoicus enjoys his well-deserved victory, which brings him straight into the final, Dorothea manages to get her equally deserved Championship points by coming in second, and Phoenix Furiens, having completely lost its left wheel, crumbles miserably down on the ground at just a few meters from the finish line. A disgruntled and disappointed, but… (dreamily) oh-so-beautiful helmeted Amazon by the name of Hippolyta… (Pause. Salvus giggles at Placidus.) climbs off Phoenix Furiens and gives a mighty kick to her evidently weak chariot, making it tumble upside-down on the ground and effectively sealing its fate. (Pause. He looks at Salvus.) So Stoicus is the winner, animalish Dorothea gets her points, Hippolita gets nothing and… do you think there’s anything more to say for this great First Semifinal, buddy?
salvus (smiling to Placidus, another of his wide, sunny smiles) No, Placide. I’m most definitely not inclned to think so. I think we may say goodbye now.
placidus. Yes, we certainly may. (Pause. Very formal) Ladies and gentlemen, you have just witnessed the First Semifinal of the Virtual Chariot Race for the Ludi Novi Romani 2774 a.U.c. This is Publius Annæus Constantinus Placidus…
salvus. …and this is his best buddy, Manius Flavius Salvus…
placidus. …and we’re signing off for today. See you all soon here, same place, same channel, for the Second Semifinal. (Pause. He pushes on his earphone.) Tullia, you may fade us out now. (She does. The screen fades to black and the broadcast ends.)