There’s something about visiting a city again that brings on a moment of anxiety. I hadn’t been to Rome in a decade, would the city be as I remembered it?
My memories of it were like looking at an old Scrapbook. The enormous city had never revealed itself to me as a real place. Grand and ornate, I never got a sense of people’s lives, or how they lived, the rhythm of a city remained to me, a story untold. Maybe it’s because the city was developed by the Roman Empire, it had to be spectacular, but the sprawling city with its impressive architecture with huge majestic squares leaves me feeling like another number, an outsider. I prefer Venice, it’s manageable, and its influences of art, architecture and literature I relate to.
The traffic in Rome is like that of a juggler- constant movement. Inside a cab, the driver makes loops, it’s making me car sick and dizzy. I yell out to the driver, “Are you going in circles, to make money off me?”
Going to museums and churches with many people never appealed to me but when in Rome, it’s the only way to admire the neoclassical architecture and opulent ancient villas. Entering the Vatican, I am in a reverie, how can religious art uphold love while there is so much hypocrisy, a guise for having transgressed, or was it only man that transgressed by committing acts of violence in the name of the church? It raises more questions in my mind than I can answer.
David, our guide calls me, he’s flipping his pamphlet and crooking his finger motioning for me to follow him to another room. After we step inside, he says, “These are paintings you won’t want to forget.”
I wrinkle up my nose. “But, I don’t think we can take photographs here.”
“Right. You’ll have to visit the bookshop for a book or image to remember the trip.”
“Actually last time I was here, I bought the creation of Adam on cloth, where God gives Adam the spark of life as cherubs look on. The original is in the first room, we missed it earlier.” Now I’m being the guide, “Shall we go see it?”
He smiles, as if his inner cupid is released – a blaze of adoration coming over him.
David takes off his glasses and wipes them clean. “You have taught me more than any tour guest I’ve ever known.”
I perk up. “Really!” I’m flattered and at the same time shy to acknowledge this facet of myself. I change the subject, “Where to now?”
“We have ten minutes before we go back to the bus and head out for lunch.”
It was hard to tear myself away from the perfection of the Sistine Chapel- but the lure of places yet to be visited drove me forward. I didn’t want to miss anything since I had no idea when I’d be back. In the gift shop, when it came to buying Art, I knew I couldn’t carry much on the plane. I tried to commit to memory every painting. Later that day at the Borghese Gallery and Museum, I make my purchase- a white marble of a woman seated, partially nude, the favorite and scandalous sister of Napoleon, titled Venus Victrix by Antonio Canova.
Days later, I arrive in Florence, I decide to focus this trip on photographing locals and architecture, medieval and gothic. I walk the cobblestone streets pass the Renaissance piazzas with rustling pigeons to see Michelangelo’s David and il Duomo. My eyes scan the area looking for a way to take photos of the masterpiece without people in the background. It wasn’t possible. To my amazement, a man approaches me, “Would you like me to clear some area for you?” he asks in a jokingly manner.
“Sure,” I say. “I’m ready.”
Actually, his comment brought me back down to earth. My sense of wanting everything so, is often hard to live with, even for me. Sometimes laughter is the best medicine for my exactness. More often, what develops if someone tries to help me achieve my perfectionism, is to no avail. Within the crowd, there are children and suddenly a couple kisses so I snap immediately.
“There was such fearlessness in your face when you took that,” he remarks.
I add, “I hope it turns out to be like a Robert Doisneau, with a couple in love, while children play.” As I walk the city streets, I think of why color prints could never approach the beauty of black and white.
After lunch of Tuscan crostini, a chicken liver paste on unseasoned bread I peer into shop windows and see some amazing antique jewelry, each time I look at it as if to question, shall I go in? I come across a high-end boutique that catches my eye where I try on a slim fitting black gabardine wool trumpet skirt. When I come out of the dressing room, all the merchant can say is, “Bella.”
The next day after visiting the Uffizi Gallery while carrying my Botticelli print of the Birth of Venus in hand, I come across a vintage store where I purchase an off- white silk poet’s blouse to compliment the skirt. I accessorize the ensemble with black high heel lace-up boots, a turquoise and silver chain belt and black cashmere shawl– this is about to become one of all-time favorite winter outfits.
After a few days with no tangible destination and no goal to my wandering, I want to go home. At the Santa Maria Novella railway station, I step outside as rain begins to fall. In the distance a mist is gathering. Slowly the white vapor moves like a ghostly presence and I watch the vaporetto penetrate the misty curtain and disappear. Soaking wet, why this moment should make me as happy as it did is a mystery to me. Was I to accept this as an unexpected windfall, with complete pleasure and without questioning its origins? As if to answer, the church bells in the Square begin to sound their chimes, telling me: Yes, yes, yes.