Reading. Levi. (Carlo).
I found Carlo Levi and his Christ Stopped at Eboli in a dusty little used bookstore, hidden in the back of an old building that housed vegetable stalls and bakeries and butcher-shops and fish markets, across the street from the main complex of the Pike Place Market. I was swept away by his story of that year spent in the far reaches of civilization, in exile at a small town that seemed untouched by time, by culture, by progress, by Christ. His Fleeting Rome is another creature altogether, some thirty-three essays linked together by one thing: the city of Rome. I reflected that the title seemed all wrong, that Rome is anything but fleeting, that the city itself would endure, immortal, eternal, beyond the end of time. Or so we are told.
He begins with the people of Rome, referring to "an odd little quatrain about the people of Rome" which runs as follows:
The People of Rome are a Populusque
with family ties to Senate and Curia
and will endure for centuries, quousque
the last drop has been drained.
That last drop, Levi tells us, refers to the wine of the Castelli; unless the poet was alluding, metaphysically, to the last drop of time, the end of the ages, which the Romans, with agreeable nonchalance, would thus polish off, like a bottle of wine...the Romans alone know how to withstand, with the same unshakeable equilibrium, both the deceitful and oppresive venom of their wine and the no less burdensome and venemous deceptions of time...accustomed as they are to that wine from time immemorial, they have adapted to it, developing an immunity, blunting its sting through the passage of time, just as they have employed the virtues of that wine to blunt time's sting.
Rome is a city like no other because its people are like no other, from the beginning of time fastened, as Levi claims, "inseperably to something else: the senate, the government, and the church." The people of Rome see Rome only from within, treat Rome without formality, wear Rome like a comfortable suit of old clothes...the common people of Rome feel at home in that Dea Roma, Rome the goddess. They stroll across her skin, eat and sleep among her tresses, enjoy the cool evening breezes upon her back. They are her tenant, her subtenant, and her landlord as well...they are, we might say, a part of her.
I think if I were to head back to Rome (this time avoiding the crooked cab drivers) I would slip into the city, feel it as comfortable and familiar as an old suit of clothes, walk through the streets and find that the smells and sights and textures become a part of me, a part of my skin that I would have to shed when I left but would find waiting the next time I returned. Rome is one of those cities I have loved once and will always love thereafter, whose memories I wear like a cloak.
(to be continued).
Levi, Carlo. Fleeting Rome. John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, 2005. pp 3-4.