It’s hard to let go of Rome. I have such a jumble of memories: first, the incomprehensible scale of the place and its art – St. Peter’s! The Colosseum! Bernini! The Baths of Caracalla!
Then there are the more prosaic impressions – morning coffee with steamed milk and hard rolls that were delicate as popovers inside; the square Roman cobblestones that seemed determined to trip me up at every turn; lovely sycamore trees lining the Via Veneto, bright Roman sunshine and clear blue skies; crumbling ancient walls with fresh tendrils of ivy springing forth. The ancient and the now at every turn.
Nathaniel Hawthorne expressed it better in The Marble Faun, where he notes that in Rome there is:
“a perception of such weight and density in a bygone life, of which this spot was the centre, that the present moment is pressed down or crowded out, and our individual affairs and interests are but half as real here as elsewhere.”
Those words were written in 1859 but are as applicable today as then and I think of them when I remember walking one night through the Piazza di Pietra where we saw columns preserved from the Temple of Hadrian (A.D. 145) that were later incorporated into a 17th-century papal palace. Today, it is occupied by, of all things, a bank. Progress, I suppose.
I would love to have lingered in Rome. You would find me right now at one of the sidewalk cafes at the Piazza Navona, or peeking into one of the innumerable and mysterious churches where everyone seems to visit but no one seems to worship. I would wander the labyrinthine Vatican Museums and trudge up the hill to the Capitoline Museums. I would gaze again up at the oculus of the Pantheon and marvel at the wonders of this city.
I will always remember that we had the most glorious weather in Rome. Apparently, Hawthorne did, too as he says of it:
“It was like no weather that exists anywhere, save in Paradise and in Italy; certainly not in America, where it is always too strenuous on the side either of heat or cold.”
Yes, it is hard to say goodbye to Rome, just as it was for Mark Twain in The Innocents Abroad. I will take his advice in part:
“But the surest way to stop writing about Rome is to stop. I wished to write a real ‘guidebook’ chapter on this fascinating city, but I could not do it, because I have felt all the time like a boy in a candy shop – there was everything to choose from, and yet no choice. I have drifted along hopelessly for a hundred pages of manuscript without knowing where to commence. I will not commence at all. Our passports have been examined. We will go to Naples.”
The way to stop writing about Rome is to stop, and so I will. Like Twain, we said a very fond farewell to Rome, but our next destination was not Naples, but Umbria. Next stop: Orvieto.