Rome is Love Spelled Backwards
The quarantine is ending, it is finally time to get back out there and go greet her, Rome. I try to unravel and name my feelings. The trepidation of meeting a loved one at the arrivals area of an airport after a long time apart, an absurd desire to run and leap into her embrace. Anticipation for the instant I will first set eyes on the Pantheon, the desire to wrap myself in the fabric of her lines and shapes as in a worn, soft blanket that survived from childhood. What will it be like?
It’s over, I can go out! I had imagined a very visual post but it’s raining pretty hard, not ideal for pictures. I decide to leave grand vistas for a sunny day, and focus on Roman details I love. Andiamo – Let’s go!
The outer section of the Colosseum seems very abruptly interrupted. In the early 19th century it was shored up with the brick buttress you see on the left. I love how the original blocks were deliberately placed within it as if they were collapsing – notice the cracks and unevenness in the arches – to tell the story of plundering and destruction endured by the Colosseum, turning it into the ruin we see today. A “romantic” take on restoration, right up my alley!
I can’t resist pausing a moment at the view of the Roman Forum (il mio posto del cuore, the place of my heart) from Capitoline Hill, and thinking of how many times I experienced the passing of the seasons and every possible variation on weather, walking through those beloved ruins.
I walk across the Piazza del Campidoglio to find the statue of the River Nile — in ancient Roman art, rivers are represented as reclining bearded men, a brilliant image for their antiquity and slow progression to the sea. I especially like this representation of the River Nile for the marble it is made of, which the Romans imported from Greece. It is known as marmo cipollino (onion marble) because its texture recalls the layers of an onion, and today its greenish/grayish tones are beautiful with the sheen of the rain. I read somewhere that this variety of marble might have been chosen because its layers suggested flowing, rippling water. That stone can evoke something fluid, in motion, enchants me. I really hope it’s true.
I walk down the Capitoline Hill and continue through familiar alleys and squares looking for favorite details. It is pouring and yet these sites fill me with cheer and warmth, like standing by a fireplace after coming in from the cold.
This is the main piazza of the Jewish Ghetto and these are my favorite benches. They are not fastened to the ground and people who come here move them around all day, according to the sun and the shade, and whatever arrangement different conversations require. The piazza is a public living room, where people pull up benches instead of chairs to visit with each other.
Everything I love about Rome in one picture. The worn, gritty look of a city that wears its centuries nonchalantly, a 2000 year old Roman relief removed from a family tomb outside the city, and pasted on this building by the admirer of antiquities who lived here long ago; electric cables draped across it, a drainpipe, the wooden door of a cafe’. Past and Present, Art and Daily Life.
I smile at the surly expression of the man at the center (what a perfect frown!), and recognize my familiar tenderness for the little boy holding his pet dog in his arms; maybe his mother to the left, and the hand of her husband, resting gently on her shoulder, a sign of marriage. The relief was cut right there so we can’t see her husband. I try to imagine him and hope he was a little less stern than the other fellow! Here they are, an ancient Roman family looking out as if from a window, onto the modern families that enjoy the piazza today, and all of us as we come through.
I look into a great shop and eatery, Beppe e i suoi Formaggi – Joe and his Cheeses (if I played in a band, I would pick that as a name), and wish I could spend a week there sampling everything. A few blocks down, I roll my eyes at the extremes of Italian “fashion” that has men wearing clothes that look like they shrank five sizes in the dryer (the line between a proper fit and sausage casings is really not that fine…).
I reach Campo de’ Fiori and walk around the market stalls. I take a moment to mentally celebrate the fact that no matter how fast the pace of our world can be, how absurd this time in history is, Rome still offers moments of simple, timeless perfection, real substance, and dignity of hard work done with care, like this.
This lady is trimming coral green beans (we like them in a simple tomato sauce). and has prepared the vegetables for the minestrone, mixed salad and the puntarelle, a type of chicory shoot that is very popular in Rome as a salad dressed with anchovies, garlic, olive oil and vinegar.
The bright colors of the flowers stands offer a nice break from the grey and the rain. I stop at the Forno, the bakery, for a striscetta di pizza bianca – literally a “little stripe of white pizza”, with nothing on it except olive oil and a bit of coarse salt, another Roman favorite. Although I like its basic simplicity, it is really good with prosciutto and figs, or what a friend of mines defines “just an idea, a veil” of Nutella.
It starts raining even harder so I decide on one last stop, the Pantheon. I stand in line, have my temperature taken, enter, and follow the one way route, as I did before I left. In normal circumstances, when it rains, the center of the floor is roped off so visitors don’t walk on the slippery wet marble. For as long as I can remember, I always stood just outside that area and never actually felt it rain on me, on my head, inside the Pantheon. Today, for the first time in my life, because of the obligatory path we have to follow, I do. I stop to ponder this very tiny yet powerful sign of how everything has changed this year. A guard comes and tells us all to move on, to keep going. He is quite young and undoubtedly wants to remind those of us who just stand there gaping, that the Pantheon is a church, a religious space that requires respect, but what he says is: “Non è uno spettacolo!” – “This is not a spectacle!”. An Italian tourist behind me exclaims: “Ma lo è, è davvero spettacolare!” But it is; it is really spectacular!”. I smile in agreement, and move on.
I return home happy but also saddened to see so many businesses shut down or empty. A year ago these same streets were brimming with vitality and activity, Romans and visitors would have been bumping umbrellas on the streets. I hold onto all the beautiful moments I experienced this morning and dig deeper for necessary hope, patience and resolve.
Tomorrow the weather forecast predicts sunshine and I say arrivederci to you with that and a rainbow over the Colosseum. I was afraid it wouldn’t last so I rushed to take a picture while my glasses were both fogged up and splattered with rain, balancing my umbrella and my bag. It’s a little bit faint, but it is definitely there.
Arcobaleno sul Colosseo.