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Tuesday, July 18, 2006

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.


Anonymous grace said...

Loved this post! All things revered and appreciated, if one stays long enough, become common place. Isn't that a shame that it takes a conscious effort to contiually see the beauty and goodness and even history that abounds! It is so easy to become desensitized to everything that once was so tantalizing and provocative...What a beautiful description of the cycle of humanity...g

10:07 PM  

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