Fall in Rome:
There will be culture shock. Having just come from the states, where things are as they always have been; all things regular, timed, dependable, and in my native language.
There is no city more beautiful than Rome (15).
I await the most beautiful city after a summer like this one, not a summer at all (at least not how they usually are for me–slower, sunnier, stickier with sunscreen). I have been harried, my mind forced to flit from one thing to the next so that it is all done–work project, school projects, packing projects; my mind is a project.
Trastevere is full of medieval houses and clotheslines and drinking fountains that appear to be permanently turned on. Little cars are parked in impossible places. In front of one building maybe eighty scooters stand handgrip to handgrip; there is the temptation to give one a kick to see if they’ll all go down.
Julius Caesar lived in this neighborhood. So did Cleopatra (17)
There is a history in Rome that I will be walking through, one that I will feel become a part of me as I become a part of it. I invite it into my cells now through the words of Anthony Doerr, in preparation for the real thing.
What is Rome? Clouds. Church bells. The distant pinpricks of birds. In Trastevere yesterday, a girl in a black dress sat on the rim of a fountain and scribbled into a leather book with a bright blue quill two feet long (20).
I want to be her, the one in a black dress, scribbling philosophical musings, real-time descriptions, my inner-workings away from the workings that make up my day-to-day.
I think I used to be more like her. More still. In high school, every day after school I rode my bike to a park near the river and climbed a steep bluff, so steep that some of it was considered free-hand rock climbing. I’d sit at the top, stare down at the people below, in their cars, on their highways, going somewhere, and I’d write, or just sit. Now, I’m a people in a car, on a highway, going somewhere.
Rome, it seems, seeds esoteric passions: there are scholars of staircases, scholars of keyholes (20).
I am a scholar, of what esoteric passion I cannot yet name. It’s forming inside of me.
Is this Rome? Or a dream? (28).
Can’t it be both? I’ve been dreaming of being in Rome though I’ve never been there. In my dreams, I am a gladiator and I want to wake up.
Every time I turn around here, I witness a miracle: wisteria pours up walls; slices of sky show through the high arches of a bell tower; water leaks nonstop from the spouts of a half-sunken marble boat in the Piazza di Spagna. A church floor looks soft as flesh; the skin from a ball of mozzarella cheese tastes rich enough to change my life. (30-31)
Are miracles made from the unfamiliar space of traveling? I need some of that life-changing mozzarella.
History lies beneath the city like an extensive and complicated armature. Emperors were stabbed beneath tramlines. Sheep grazed beneath supermarkets. The thirteen obelisks of Rome have been toppled and reerected and shuffled around so many times that to lay a map of their previous positions over a map of their current ones is to evoke a miniature cross-hatching of the city’s entire memory, a history of power and vanity like a labyrinth stamped beneath the streets. (40)
The streets of Rome are a pentimento of the past and the present. Pentimento is actually an Italian word, it is one of my very favorite words I have ever encountered. Pentimento: when one can see the previous works of art underneath new layers. It is a term that describes Rome: recycled, layered, a city to be uncovered. I hope to enmesh my memory in the city, but not in the way that my presence is detected.
Rome: a contest between sun and shadow, kingdom and time, architecture and weeds. The shadows will win, of course, and time, and weeds. (44-45).
Rome: a contest between an old ruling empire and the empire I come from.
Again I feel, acutely, that we are outsiders–that there are things in Rome that I will never come close to understanding. (47)
I have a feeling that I will come back to Rome many times in my lifetime (at least, it is a hope of mine) to get closer and closer to whatever understanding it holds me for me at the time.
All quotes from Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr.