Blog Archive

rome diaries, part three

Rome has been so good to me. The weather was perfect, just a touch of rain one of the days. I've forgotten what it's like to function out in full sun for days and days on end.

Non word-salad shortcut: photo sets parts one and two are here and here.

{on heading home}

White-guy take-over-the-world ranting aside, I have had experiences here of a tremendous sort. I've seen major sites of ruins and stood where literal history has taken place, touched the Coliseum and the columns of the Pantheon, and ate a picnic in the two thousand-year-old remnants of an ancient city. I've photographed massive, hand-built structures both in the light of day and glowing gigantic in the night, seen statues so big that I can barely compare them to anything, and stood in gorgeous piazzas wondering how the hell I was supposed to go back to Seattle and take pictures of bands after all this bliss. There were letters unearthed from the Vatican for the first time in several hundred years, pressed under glass: from Gallileo, Marie Antionette, Abraham Lincoln; decrees for the burning of Brutus, pleas to Christopher Columbus to spread the white-guy propaganda to the “new world” he'd just “discovered” -- all inches away from my nose.

I've stood underneath the center of the Sistine Chapel, learned about countless artists and the (some mythological) stories behind the meanings of the basic words of language as we now know it and the magic behind the seasons, making up in small part for all of the days in high school when I was wasted, absent, or otherwise just checked out of my life. I've eaten food like I've never seen before, lived hyper-locally, cooked big bountiful dinners in an apartment kitchen in Monte Verdi, picked up bits of the language, and ordered gelato from a shop so authentic that no one spoke a word of English, forcing me to fumble through my childlike language set like a pocketful of same-sized coins. The cat sanctuary, the remnants of Mussolini, the aggressive men, the beautiful women. With Haley's help, I even learned how to navigate the transit system, a feat of seemingly olympic proportions before I'd arrived in town.

The cobbled streets of Trastevere, the buildings that fill in during imaginings among the ruins of the Roman forum, the shopping, the cultural shift, some of the very underpinnings of art as we know it, the architecture that was light-years beyond it's own time, the open-air markets, the yelling, the love, the sound of church bells and mopeds and packs of children playing and couples quarreling. The rooftops I've waited years to see. And between all the tours and the museums and the shops and the wanderings and the just-the-right-light hitting the perfect spot photographs, there was food. Croissants like nothing I've ever had before, macchiato at the bar, pizza like it's meant to be, panini and bruschetta and prosciutto and fruit. I had gelato almost every day, un cannolo just once (but the best one that ever was), pesto, antipasti, artichoke lasagna, carbonara, zucchini flowers, and macchiato after macchiato after macchiato. The .99E chocolate bar in the grocery store was better than most of the “gourmet” chocolate at home, and not just because I willed it to be. The last night, I ate until I thought I would burst, and then ate some more. And then some.

It was surprising to see the city as it really was and not as an over-romanticized version of itself, with trash and graffiti more often than not, litter and dogshit and pickpockets and leering men. But it was all pushed aside by the beauty, by daily modern life among the ruins of history, by the very breath of the culture, by the thing that happens there that makes your heart sing. It was almost like when I was in New York for more than a day or two for the first time, doing what I loved as I volunteered for KEXP in real-time for the first time, at the Museum of Television and Radio all those years ago... and after I acclimated to the world around me the city very much started to charm my pants off. It didn't matter that there were rats in the subway and homeless people pissing in alleyways. There was an electricity to it, a fire, a something-unexplainable that seems to only exist in these epicenters, and that can't be replicated no matter how hard the try is. I asked Haley if there was a phrase for that undercurrent I was feeling, espresso on tiny tables on those antique streets, heart full of sun and eyes full of the staggering majesty of the buildings around me. “There is,” she said. “That's what they call 'la dolce vita'.” Probably something I should incorporate into a tattoo at some point.

There has been so much, from the mundane to the other-worldly, from how to order coffee to the reality that there's an entire separate lifetime going on, as many as there are other countries and cultures, everywhere in the world. It sounds simple and trite, but it's not anything I could fully comprehend without being fully immersed in it. These are worlds that get painted in books and movies that you have to touch, see, feel, and breathe to truly understand -- had I taken the trip as a course of romance, I can't even imagine how it all would have struck me. Tenfold at least, I presume, and what's struck me even one-fold has been enough to bowl me over for a long, long time.

As I sit staring out the well-worn window of the airport at the plane that will house me for the next ten hours or so, backwards in time to reach New York around 3p (today) EST, I'm trying to embrace my trip and the timing and even the transatlanticism that's about to take place. I tried not to lament the leaving but to be grateful for the hours and days spent, and I'm trying not to lament the arriving but instead finding gratitude for heading home to Seattle. The reality is that there are sad sides to Italy as well, most notably that the country is in a state of financial distress, that these ruins we flock to see and touch and those sidewalks we yearn to caffeinate on are poorly maintained, and that the bulk of archeological work, excavation, and discovery that goes on (at least in Rome specifically) is mostly the result of funded grants and teams coming in from other countries and various universities. They've taken out the current prime minister and “installed” a new person for the remainder of the term, whose sole purpose is to fix the current economic state. With Haley being in international studies and all, a whole big bright element opened up there as well, and her very ways made me want to continue my education in ways I never had before. Perhaps I should start with community college and reading the newspaper every now and again.

***

Home now, having no belief in jet lag until I passed out at 8:40 last night and found myself wide awake at 3:30a this morning, I'm trying to take it easy and not panic at how behind it all feels -- I'm suddenly back to lists and work projects and combing venue calendars and fitting everything I humanly can on my schedule. When people ask me how the trip was, I find myself saying that I feel like I've had my "first time" now, and how unprepared I was for the majesty of it all... and there's little else I can do besides point to the pictures and explain how they have to go and how I can't wait to get back.

There were only a few photos from the last update til now that didn't get posted, so, here's the last one I took before heading home for the night to pack.

We now return to our regularly scheduled programming, with fresh eyes and a bit more courage -- I can't wait to see what comes on next.

Victoria Uhl