Sunday, March 27, 2011

Night Walk

Fell asleep in the big dim apartment after my afternoon at the mother of all churches. Woke in the middle of the evening. Ate an apple, some bread and cheese. Went out and started walking toward the Tiber. All the boutiques were closed, the many small restaurants open though not crowded. Looked through windows at a little shop selling picture frames, making a mental note of its location because my daughter will certainly be interested. A sign pointed toward the Pantheon off to the left and I detoured on impulse.

Approached it after several blocks from a narrow side street and could only see a fragment of the immense, horribly worn and weathered colonnade. Patchy lighting. People always talk about how well preserved it is so I was not ready for the sight of such damage – which had obviously been inflicted by human looters who shinnied up the columns in order to knock marble off the capitals and the frieze with hammers so they could burn it for lime. Such anger I felt then that I could have been watching the destruction with my own eyes. Sorrow too, mixed in with the calm admission that I had never dreamed from descriptions or pictures that it was this beautiful.

Big piazza, few people. Another obelisk, of course. Police and carabinieri quietly chatting, seemingly outnumbering the civilians – to whom they pay no apparent attention. Romans walking by in pairs, talking and smoking (all Romans smoke, so far as I can tell, even expensive dowagers in high heels and furs). Nobody so much as glancing at the monster-hulk above them.

I made one slow circuit, then another, but doubting that my photographs would convey anything, surely never anything adequate.

For the tenth time today people came up and asked me a question in Italian, and got a dumb smile and shrug for an answer. My librarian face is always doing this to to me, giving out the false message that I know what's what. Looked through windows at a little shop selling gloves, making a mental note of its location because my daughter will certainly be interested.

Wandered down narrow streets, almost at random, pondering the obvious Lessons of History, the same ones people always ponder in Rome. Photographed a wall shrine looking with its smiling Madonna and votive lights and bouquets surprisingly like sincere, old-fashioned piety.

Emerged after several dark twisty turns into spotlights and noise. The Trevi Fountain. Later on I would tell my daughter that this was one sight you didn't have to look for, you would stumble across it no matter where else you thought you were headed. All that crashing water, green in the artificial light. I took it as a sort of stand-in for the Tiber, which I never reached that night.