Quarantine and the Fourth Dimension

My quarantine ends on Monday and I want to have something to show for these days of isolation and quiet, something good to oppose to the unsettling sense of time both dragging sluggishly and disappearing in huge chunks without a trace.

As I have often shared, this year has given me an opportunity to reflect more deeply on my guide work and to exchange ideas with my colleagues as opposed to fretting over reservations, strikes, crowds and less than ideal weather conditions. We fantasize about what it will be like to be back out there, what we can bring with us from the experience we are living through; we focus on and try to better define our aspirations and the ultimate purpose of what we do.

I have understood more clearly than ever before that everything I do as a guide is about inclusion. My ambition is to eliminate obstacles, erase distances, and cross every threshold it takes to experience Rome’s treasures with the same ease and confidence we have when we connect with people we know well and are dear to us.

Witnessing that connection, empathizing with travelers’ impressions and reactions, weaving  them into my own over the years, has created what today feels like a substantial wealth of human experience that I want to continue to cultivate and nurture, even now that I cannot show you Rome in person. Yet.

I was talking about this with Ilaria on the phone and we agreed that this is why we get slightly impatient with people who ask us how it is possible for us not to get bored doing the same thing over and over again. No, it isn’t the same, it’s never the same. We talked about the values we share, our fixation with inclusion and how interesting it has been for us to put our thoughts in writing here since neither of us had done it before.

A few hours later Ila sent me a text message saying that what we discussed reminded her of an episode from her schooldays and that she had felt the need to write about it, and she had emailed it to me. I immediately thought it contained the core of what motivates and inspires each day and we want to share it with you. In Ila’s words, here it is.

La Quarta Dimensione – The Fourth Dimension

Long ago, when I was still a high school student, I had the great fortune to meet a young teacher.

It happened often that one of our teachers got sick and somebody had to come to substitute them.

That day, it was the art teacher who was sick, and we were happy and excited because we thought we would have a very relaxing day with 2 whole hours to spend just doing nothing.

While we were all busy chatting, a young man entered the classroom, so young in fact that we thought he couldn’t possibly be our teacher but yes, he was.

He smiled at us and sat at his desk.

We were a bit confused, and even more so when instead of introducing himself he asked: “Do you know how many dimensions there are in a painting?”

It sounded easy to answer, so somebody said “Two”.

The young man continued “Are you sure?”

“It must be a trap…” somebody whispered.

“Which dimensions are you thinking of?” the teacher looked at us, he really wanted an answer.

“Width and height” we said, almost all together.

“Anything else?”

“Well, depth maybe, considering the canvas” said one classmate; “The depth of the painting” said another.

“…and what more?” asked the teacher.

The young man started to look a bit older; he got up, pretended he was thinking of something highly important, and after a couple of minutes, he went back to sit at his desk.

What a strange man, I was curious about him, and started to feel he could hear my thoughts.

He said: “Maybe you think I’m a bit strange, but I’m not, no more than you are. Have you ever heard of the fourth dimension?”

“Only in science fiction movies, hahaha!” we joked. It all sounded really funny to us, but the teacher continued, “The fourth dimension in art is you, me; whoever is in front of a work of art is its fourth dimension.

If you want to learn how to read art, you should never forget that even a universal masterpiece like the Mona Lisa would not exist in space and time without at least one person there to look at it.

When we are in front of a work of art, in a museum, in a public space like a square, admiring a magnificent fountain, wherever we are in the presence of art, we bring with us a very special camera, a camera full of emotions, sadness, happiness, hunger, boredom, desperation.  Each emotion is a filter that will transform this work of art into something different. That art will never be the same, you can stand in front of it millions of times and it will always look a little different…”

At that point, the young teacher asked our class: “Now, can you tell me how many dimensions there are in a painting?”

“Endless” a classmate said, and we all thought that he was right.