Friday, May 18, 2007

Reading. Levi. (Carlo).

(last one).

Our hotel in Rome was situated in the heart of the city, in the Piazza Barberini; in the center of the piazza was the Triton fountain sculpted by Bernini, the great artist from whom the hotel took its name. The Via Veneto began at one corner of the square (actually, it was rather triangular) and wound its way up towards the gardens of the Villa Medici and the Villa Borghese beyond, the snaking curves of the tree-shaded boulevard at least equal to those of Anita Ekberg as immortalized in the film La Dolce Vita more than forty years ago. There were grand hotels and restaurants (with faded photographs of movie stars from the 60's and 70's behind glass next to their doors) all along that winding street, and glass-enclosed sidewalk caf├ęs that provided a cool oasis during the heat of the day. (On our last night I ate pasta carbonara in one of those air-conditioned mini-restaurants - the food would be brought in from the main restaurant - as we watched people pose with the dazzlingly expensive sports car in the seductively lit window of the Lambourghini dealership across the street, their digital cameras flashing in the dim light).

My Rome is some four decades older than Levi's Rome, and I came to it as a tourist instead of a resident, a foreigner instead of a native. I wish I had more time to explore, more time to wander the streets, to gaze at monuments that have stood there for a few millennia. There was just enough time for a taste, for us to walk for hours, down the twisting cobblestone streets that joined together the archipelago of piazzas and cathedrals and pockets of shaded gardens, turning the city into an intricate puzzle. Now I read about how "beneath the blazing sun, the lawns of the Villa Borghese wilt, as the green fades away; the soil turns to dust: scattered across...the jaundiced blades of grass are the paper wrappings of yesterday's picnic the shade of mighty plane trees lie human bodies, like so many forgotten corpses; inevitably, a newspaper covers their face," and I remember walking through those same lawns, in the shade of those same trees, down into the Piazza del Popolo, following the via del Babuino back towards the Piazza di Spagna and those eternal steps, gazing into the expensive shops along the way, with finely made shoes and handbags displayed behind gleaming plate-glass as though they were jewels.

Part of what I love about Rome is that althought I didn't realize it at the time, those days marked a turning point in my life. I didn't know that a year later I would find myself writing with a kind of explosive joy, and that it would change my life. Levi brings that time back to me, and reminds me all over again how far I have come, and how far I have yet to go. And I cannot wait to see what will happen next.

Levi, Carlo. Fleeting Rome: In Search of la Dolce Vita. John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, 2005. p. 139.

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