The Eternal City
For a good couple of years, the background image of my Facebook profile was a shot I took on my trip to Rome; that’s how much I enjoyed it. I’d like to share with you my experience throughout it; nothing more. This is not a travel article, but a memoir. It will not tell you where to eat, where to sleep, what to see, how to travel, or how to breathe. Its sole purpose is to share with you how I breathed in the city.
Dreams Of Parfume
The apartment room I rented was cozy, came with the softest, comfiest bed I ever slept in, and spread a subtle, sweet perfume that sticks to my memory as the marker of many of Rome’s best spots. Perhaps because I was imbued with it in my sleep, and wore it to them.
I dislike public transportation when on vacation; it’s like skipping life forward but still losing the time being skipped. I want to feel, to communicate with, to touch, to caress, to breathe in, to smell, to witness, to observe, to hear, to compose life’s unfolding labyrinth as an undivided whole, not a series of movie sequences interrupted by commercials. I’m so hard-core in this regard that I actually walked – on foot! – from my hotel to Piazza di Spagna, while I delighted in observing the city’s feast of culture variety: its people. People from all over the world, of countless manners of walking and talking and dressing and smelling and smiling, congregated like blood cells along the arteries of this living, breathing city, making my journeys no less interesting than their destinations.
I was amazed by the churches that are to Rome like spots to a Dalmatian. Each and every one was a small cultural wonder in its own right. I could not help but feel a shiver of raw awe every time I entered one. Masterfully crafted sculptures and paintings adorned every corner. Beautiful classical music caressed them softly. The very air carried a whiff of divine perfume. To stand inside one was to witness true majesty, to be wrapped in a cocoon of timelessness.
I was fascinated by the ruins that mark Rome’s elegance like wrinkles mark a sage’s wisdom. They all carried a feeling, a signaling, a scent unique to each, and each left its mark among my memories. A couple of birds sang with me and kept me company as I wandered through a military grave-turned-garden close to the Pyramid of Cestius. The honey-golden light of dawn dripped into a warm rain as I stepped into the Baths of Caracalla, and the sky smiled into a sun-kissed rainbow as I stepped out of them. The wind raced with me like a wild stalion as I ran unleashed across the Palatine Hill, savoring a cathartic moment of freedom brought about by the thought of the eternal renewal of life.
The focal points of Rome’s splendor included Saint Peter’s Basilica as the apex of its many enchanting churches and the Coliseum as the apex of its many haunting ruins.
Saint Peter’s Basilica was unforgiving in its resplendent splash of splendor. The statues breathing throughout it, the architecture pouring into it, the paintings moving inside it, all of them life-sized, whole and in-motion, their stories unfolding, their memories nascenting before my eyes, mingling with those of Raphael’s School of Athens, Michaelangelo’s Last Judgement, The Sistine Chapel, La Pieta, the Vatican Museum’s countless masterworks: tear-wrenching, awe-striking, breath-taking.
Circus Of Death
On the other hand, I was left rather unimpressed by the Coliseum; that ghost of an oversized slaughterhouse, that elephantine graveyard of heartless stone, that ridiculously misglorified circus of death. Its walls seemed to still echo with the screams of slaves fighting each other for a freedom that was to come only in death, its sands seemed to still keep buried the dreams of the faceless whose names were never written in the annals of history. Yet amidst the desolation, a different feeling seized my heart; the iron-will forged in the sun of a burning desire, to find an oasis, to bring one into existence: the unquenchable fire of hope, for betterment, for a new horizon shaped after an inner ideal; the reckoning of a life beyond life, of a knowing that the “I” does not rest among the broken, sand-washed bones of this forsaken mausoleum, but in the evergreen fields of Elysium.
Trickle Of Life
There were many delightful surprises on the trip: orange-robed beggars still as statues, an exhibit of some of Leonardo’s inventions, painters extolling their work in the streets, shops selling the tastiest slices of pizza, a play of water-splash near the Fontana di Trevi, Trajan’s Column erected right out of the ground in the middle of the street, a picturesque view of the whole city from the peaks of the Apostolic Palace, a walk through a peaceful retreat of mediterranean, mushroom-shaped trees and tall grasses at the city’s edge, and much, much more.
A Moment Of Peace
Yet perhaps the best surprise was that, despite all its many wonders, the most precious memory of Rome was of a brief moment in a humble place, on a little hill, where I was led by the birds of song to a small paradise. A bench stood right next to a large, slowly trickling fountain, surrounded by calm, wind-caressed waters and towered by tall, amply-crowned trees. As I sat upon the bench, no one present and everything present, just as the waters flowed through the earth, so did the emotions of the hill flow through me; just as the earth sparkled in the light, so did the trees seem to me to be as shapes of liquid light; and as I listened with closed eyes, I heard a silence made of sound, I saw a repose built of motion; and peace washed over me, boundless joy, intense beauty – unspeakable, indescribable…
I hope I planted in your heart a longing after some tickets to Rome. At the moment, mine longs after some to Florence. My wife wants to improve her skills as an artist by attending a workshop by a school of classic fine art recommended by The Art Renewal Project, “The Florence Academy Of Art”.
If all goes well, we’ll be spending at least three weeks there, and I’ll be sure to let you know about the magnificence of Florence as well!