Ciao from some faraway place! Check in, see where I am, post a comment....

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

O sola mia...

Not any more!

Robin arrived on Thursday last week and we've spent a whirlwind four days seeing Rome, Siena, Florence and we are now (Monday AM) in Venice. Just got done with lunch, headed back out into the fray for more art, canali, gorgeous buildings... and food!

Germany blog posts soon.

Living in Rome

When I first visited Rome, I left here fully expecting that someday (soon, if I could manage it) I would come back to live. I wanted to pass the Coliseum every day and think about the blood-drenched sand, the lions and Christians, the emperors and ordinary citizens whose screams still echoed into today.

I wanted to walk through the Forum on quiet spring mornings before the tourists (which I would not be, then) arrived, and imagine that Julius Caesar, Mark Antony, even Cleopatra was just around the next pillar of marble up ahead or inside the temple on the right.

I wanted to walk into Piazza San Pietra with pilgrims from every part of the world, and reverently mount the stairs and enter the 20+ foot high doors into cool dimness and spectacular grandeur. I wanted to, one-by-one, enter every church, see every unbelievable painting, touch all the carved fountains that had been imagined and created 500… 700 years before.

I wanted to feast my eyes on the surreal beauty of the Pantheon, the sculptures in the Piazza Navona and throughout the city, the fascinating archaeological sites that are always, still, being excavated. I wanted to explore the catacombs endlessly until I knew every inch, and wander in awe through villas of people whose names echo through history – Medici, Borghese, Hadrian, Borgia….

I wanted to constantly marvel at the mixture of present and past that Rome cannot help being, and spend my days in awe. How could I help it, I thought, if I lived here? How could you not be in awe in a place like this?

The answer is easy.

I now walk past the Coliseum on my way to the Piazza Rotunda, not so I can think of the thousands who died or cheered in the Coliseum or so I can spend half an hour watching the way the light changes inside the Pantheon, but so I can get some exercise on the way to the international newsstand, and have coffee in a quiet place before the tourists show up. I walk down the Spanish Steps because they are the quickest way to get from Villa Borghese to the Via del Corso, where my favorite newsstand is. And I cross Piazza Navona with only a brief thought for Bernini's genius.

Yesterday morning I walked away from my table in Piazza Rotunda after reading the paper and drinking cappuccino, and I nodded to the others I have begun to see there in the mornings. I looked at the Pantheon as I went by and did not go inside. I walked along the Via del Corso not thinking of how Romans were known throughout the world for the straightness and quality of their roads. I took a drink from one of the myriad of fountains throughout the city -- the water is cold and tastes of the springs from which it comes through acqueducts in use for 2000 years -- and did not think of the past and the people who had made it possible. And I walked in the shadow of the Coliseum because it provided the best shade on the street, my thoughts on Robin’s upcoming arrival, where we would stay in Munich, whether I had enough money to buy that dress… and I was halfway to my apartment before I realized what had happened.

I hadn’t noticed anything on my way back home. Not the Baroque sculptures, not the ancient ruins -- the Forum and Trajan's market had slipped past me unseen. Not the obelisk mounted on an elephant in the center of Piazza Minerva (how does one miss THAT?), not the narrow streets or the tolling of bells I had come to love.

I stopped in the middle of the street a quarter mile past the Arch of Constantine and I looked back, feeling almost guilty, as though I had betrayed the city and its history, and my promise to myself to always be aware of both.

There, etched against the morning sky, rose the Coliseum, its ragged edges a symbol of the permanence -- and impermanence -- of everything. I looked for a sign of condemnation and saw only beauty, and I realized... the city doesn't care if you notice.

It exists, and that is enough.

I was content.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Orange Shoes

Today’s game plan: buy a pair of shoes.

I made a mistake this time when I came to Italy with only sandals. While that was smarter than the year I came to Italy with NO sandals, it still didn’t cover all eventualities… like rain (which there hasn’t been any of) or a walk through a field near an abandoned house in Siena, or just because my feet hurt and could use some support.

I left my house early enough to enjoy the Forum emptier than I’ve ever seen it. Sometimes in summer the area is as packed as a rock concert, which at some level maybe makes sense… there’s something primal about music just as there is about the massive tumbled stone pillars, the still-standing temples and arches dedicated to various gods and heroes, and the fountains that spill water from aqueducts as old as the Senate building. It’s a different kind of power but maybe it calls to the same thing inside us, and we answer to it by flocking to both Sting concerts and cities like the one I find myself in.

Whatever the reason, generally the Via Sacra and the Forum itself are jam-packed. This morning, I walked the 2000-year-old paving stones to and under Titan’s arch (in my sandals) by myself, and saw only three people the entire length of the Forum. It was an auspicious start. (I have begun looking for signs in everything I do, a possibly inevitable result of being here where the Romans once led their entire lives dependent on the gods’ wishes, and sought their help and advice at every turn.)

I walked (… sandals) along Via del Corso, one of the most famous shopping areas in Rome. It is also one of the most expensive. I stopped looking there after the first pair I liked turned out to cost more than 200 €. Cutting west, I ran into the Piazza Rotunda and wandered into the Pantheon for a few minutes, then stopped in the piazza for a cappuccino and a quick look through the headlines of the day. It was still early enough that the only people out were also seeking a semblance of quiet, and everything was rather eerily silent. We smiled at each other from under umbrellas at the café, and didn’t speak. Except, of course, for my ubiquitous conversation with the waiter in Italian. “Which is more large, the cappuccino or the café latte? Then I will have a café latte, please. Thank you.” I’m getting very good at ordering coffee.

Once again heading west, I crossed the bridge of angels and walked along Via della Conciliazione, skirted St. Peter’s square where the crowds had begun to gather, and found myself on Via Ottaviano. Slightly lower priced than Via del Corso but still expensive, this is a street I should have learned to avoid. Last year I spent more than 500 € in the space of three blocks.

I made the mistake of walking into a very nice shoe store where a very nice salesman made me feel that he enjoyed listening to my attempts to talk about shoes in Italian (my first shoe conversation!) and even more that he enjoyed speaking to me as though I were five years old when he answered. He told me how lovely the first pair of 100 € shoes I tried on looked… and the second pair… and the third… and the fourth… by now I was feeling guilty that he was being so nice that I just knew I was going to end up spending more money on shoes than I’ve spent on anything so far this trip… and so… since I was going to spend so much money, I wanted to make sure I got a pair of shoes that would last a long time (this store sold quality, luckily) and, most importantly, remind me of Rome every time I wore them.

The shoes I tried on on a whim because they were so odd, I think maybe the third or fourth pair, were orange. Not bright orange, a little muted, and they were kind of a cross between a hiking shoe, with laces but a bit of a heel, and stripes kind of like a running shoe, and… well, you’ll just have to wait for the pictures.

Because, you guessed it, I bought them. Orange shoes. And while this year orange isn’t as big as it was last year, there are still enough people here wearing some version of that color that I won’t get funny looks. And by the time I get home, I’ll like them so much I won’t care when people laugh at me.

I walked back to my apartment in my new shoes – they didn’t clash too much with what I was wearing – and my biggest problem was figuring out how to keep them clean in a Rome that had while I was shopping filled up with people. I stayed away from the dusty Forum, I walked around the splashed water at the fountains, and I was careful about getting into a crowded spot where somebody might accidentally step on my feet.

After all, if you’re going to splurge on a brand new pair of orange shoes, you ought to at least take care of them.