Thursday, XXIX June MMVI. Rome, Day I
Rome! Whisper that slowly to yourself three times then click your heels together. In Rome, history lurks and shadows you, suddenly spreading wide the trenchcoat of time from a dark doorway or around a worn corner. Artefacts from the Etruscans, Holy Roman Empire, Medieval, Renaissance, Industrial and now Information Ages jumble together, each layer with transparencies exposing older, deeper layers. The mix is heady. People go about their daily lives, cell phones to ear while walking past walls built millennia ago. In the distance, festooned antenna towers grace the roofs of the Vatican. Coping with this layering seems to be a casual experience for the denizens of Rome, as much as we in North America are blasť about seeing a spotless raised 4-door extended-bed pickup truck on a downtown street. But it’s different. The spotless 4-door extended-bed pickup truck doesn’t remind you that humanity has existed for a long time and that as hard as you push against time, time is relentless. “Use your time well,” speak the walls, “don’t just exist for future fame, live for now. I’m still here, but my makers aren’t. And I can’t even recall their names.”
Thursday mid-day. San Pietro’s Piazza
If all roads lead to Rome, do all roads in Rome eventually lead to the Vatican? It is Saint Peter and Saint Paul’s Day, which I didn’t think much of (dude, you are in Rome – think again), but a randomly timed entrance to San Pietro’s Piazza has led to an unexpected audience with the Pope, albeit amongst the company of a few thousand other people. The Pope is addressing the piazza, and the world, from his apartment window. (Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou?) Some things are just too much to process during the experience - you have to peel the experience and accompanying sensations like an onion, taking time to delve through the layers of what was going on. Human society, just like a human being, has so much depth to it, so much complexity, it’s often hard to fathom. Just as hard as it is easy to simplify and generalize. There are a lot of happy people at San Pietro’s today. I expect the Vatican is a final destination for many journeys, body or spirit.
Thursday early afternoon. Piazza Navona
I’m following my toes under Roman skies, through side streets sprinkled with vibrant life and echoing churches stuffed to the rafters with peace. I’m inspired by the richness of history within such easy grasp. And bemused by tourists who travel in a bubble of their own culture. San Pietro was a scene, certainly a mix of nations and cultures, but the overriding grace of San Pietro’s seems to convert everybody, even if only temporarily. Here in Piazza Navona, many people are not only from, but in, another world. What a playground for images this city is! Tourists ‘Rome’, locals weave through the fray, police reprimand people out of Piazza Navona’s famed trio of burbling fountains and cameras flash. I think I’ll perch a while and watch this three ring circus.
Half an hour later. Piazza Navona
Some situations just ache for those comments that would create instant camaraderie. I’m still perched on my Piazza Navona doorstep. Separately, an Italian couple and an old woman joined me. Maybe the woman is returning from the market or on her way to a friend’s house. I shamefully don’t speak enough Italian to converse about much beyond left, right and pitifully little more. I wish I could understand the lyrical sounds. In uncomprehending companionship, we sit. A garbage truck trundles by. A garbage truck in North America is obnoxiously large, catastrophically noisy and very blatantly a lurking hulk. And driven by guys. This Italian version, smaller, quieter and driven by a not-nondescript woman, is making discrete dashes between the garbage cans around the piazza. But wait, she just disappeared down a small side street. The wonders of having to operate within the constraints of history? Small streets built for walking seem to favour the ‘genetic code’ of small vehicles rather than lurking hulks. Time to move on.
Thursday afternoon. Travertine Hill
I’m comfortably stretched out on a park bench at the top of Travertine Hill. Rome lays spread before my unseeing feet. The last picture I took is lingering in my head… a long distance image of San Pietro’s Basilica framed by trees. The view that cupola commands could be much like the one I climbed past on my way here - a broad eastward view over Rome, history in the distance and modern movement in the foreground. It’s hot, though delightfully so, even in the shade of this age old pine that may have seen the Basilica being reconstructed, or even constructed. My eyelids are closing, again. I’m still trying to grasp when I am.