That is the dichotomy of Rome: Life and Death. It is a dead city, very much alive. Maybe the frenzy of life in Rome are the continual reminders of the old and the dead. Live today, for tomorrow you die.
We had a difficult, sad entry into our life here, in Rome. A most loved, most treasured, member of our family became sick and died not long after we arrived. Maybe that is why these momento mori. Sophie Charlotte, our stone deaf, half-blind, beautiful pure white Turkish Wan cat, with her one green eye and one blue eye, became sick not long after we arrived and put away our things. We found a good Vet only two streets away from our place — a helpful thing for people without a car, needing many visits to the clinic — but after two weeks of brutal treatments, surgery, and an all-out struggle to save her from feline lymphoma, we decided to end her unrelenting and pointless suffering. The Vet, Dr. Paini, came to our apartment that terrible evening and put her into permanent sleep where she lay in our bedroom, on the rug, by the radiator, where she had gone … as animals do. So we could hold her in the moment of death, and she was not in a strange place, a place she had feared all her life.
So maybe that has colored our entry into the Roman world. Or discolored.
It is not fair to express feelings about a place like Rome within such discoloration. Maybe, for us, Rome will always be the place where Sophie died. Pets are, in so many ways, like our children — we take on the responsibility of caring for them, and they, who cannot take care of themselves, put their trust in us, even tacitly, that we will take care of them, we will protect them from harm, we will love them and let them love us, in their way. When we fail, when no matter how much they trust us, we still fail, it leaves us devastated for a long time. No matter what … we did not save her.
Okay. I am done with that.
I enjoy how so much of Roman life is lived on the streets, and in the piazzas. It is an endlessly looping movie. One of my favorite buskers in our piazza is this woman. She manipulates this puppet to paint a portrait on a small canvas, using paint and different brushes. I, to my regret, have no artistic skills, so it is not much to say that the puppet paints the portrait far better than I could, but not bad, considering it’s all done with strings.
I do not understand how Italians can eat they way they do. I have a prodigious appetite and am not a small person — I weigh too much at 192 lbs, on a frame that should carry 175 lbs. In spite of that, even should I want to, I am unable to sit down for a meal and consume as much food as the typical Italian. Bulimia must be rampant here, there is no way these svelte Roman women can eat the thousands of calories at once, as I see often, and not wobble around like a Butterball Turkey. The Romans I see actually do eat all those courses you see on the menu — an antipasti, a pasta course, a meat or fish course, and a desert, all washed down with ample wine. I rarely eat more than one of the courses, usually the pasta course (with ample wine, of course), and I have gained 5 kilos in three months.
I am fascinated by the open market at the foot of our street, in the Piazza San Cosimato, which is open all mornings, everyday but Sunday, regardless of the weather. Everything farm fresh, or fresh-caught, and so delightful to see in such abundance that I have from time to time sat on a nearby bench and simply stared at it all. There is a fish stall, a meat stall, a man who sells only fresh made pasta, the cheese man, the flower vendor, and a dozen stalls with any fruit or vegetable you could want. What there is not, and I wish there was, is a baker, a bread man.
I have always loved to walk, although the decrepit state of one’s body after so many decades of … well, life, has shortened the length of my walks. Even into my 50s, I had no problem walking for hours in a city, or hiking for a day in the mountains. In those heady days of youth (40s, 50s, even into the 60s) I did not bother taking a bus or a taxi or a car if the destination was less than a 90 minute walk. Oh well… . But I relish walking in Rome; it is an endless string of astonishments. You can point a camera in any direction, at anything, and have a postcard shot. Does one get jaded with all this over time?
There are annoyances, but they are the fault of my own lack of experience, or rather, a different set of experiences. I am still unable to figure out where to buy common things, and often walk all over the place trying to find a certain type of nail, or, lately, a pair of brackets to hang a painting on the wall. There is a sort of supermarket in our neighborhood — Conad, which I am now unable to call anything but gonads — that is like a well-equipped 7-11, or a poorly-equipped Safeway. At least by now I have figured out where to find basic food items in there, and it does have a nice deli. I also buy wine there. I am unable to understand the labels on Italian wine bottles, only recognizing key words (like chianti), so it doesn’t much matter where I buy wine, since it’s all the same to me. In fact, for daily wine consumption, I have the fruit and veggie vendor down the street fill up a plastic water bottle with wine from the big barrels he has in back — 4 Euros a liter.
I am getting used to Rome now. I am slowly resolving my feeling of having failed Sophie’s trust in me, so I can almost enjoy the daily routine. There is a café in the piazza where I go regularly for a cafe coretto and acqua frizzante. Caffé Marzio. It fronts the fountain and the basilica. I am not used to it, sitting in a café with that view.
Ah, but then, to the question. Am I working? Not much. Okay, let’s be honest here. I have not written one single new creative sentence since leaving Mexico City at the end of July. Erasing Rose sits locked at the same 75,000 words that existed in July. Oh, I do things with it, but all in the category of editing, sparkling, jiggling around. The last sentence I wrote back in July is the last sentence in the mss today.
But I have come across a cover idea I kind of like. This:
I really do hope one day I will be able to fill in the space behind this empty cover.