Of Sirens, Real or Otherwise [Entry No. 2]: Roman Holiday

July 2013

Rome, Italy

Sometime after dark

I was abroad, on holiday, single — that last one is usually implied — and falling in love with a city where everyone seems to fall hopelessly in love with someone. Italy was, is irresistible. I can’t imagine it being anything else to anyone else, but Rome is for lovers, which is a thing not everyone can suffer to be.

The temptation to walk for hours is difficult to resist there — which posed some problems for me, as it is not an easy city to navigate, and I am not a navigator. This was fine by me. Knowing where you’re going is overrated, especially in places where anywhere you go is bound to be beautiful.

My eyes got tired trying to keep up with all the wildly attractive people.

To be Italian is to possess some form of style, whether pauper or prince. The men are loud and expressive and, at times, overly tenacious, but it’s accepted. The women are divine and soulful in an indescribable way; they seem to dance on pavement like moonlight on water. I do my best to blend in, but my best falls short. So it goes.

You sit at a bar, a museum, a cafe, or wherever, and some part of you sincerely expects Audrey Hepburn to walk up and dazzle you. While she’s unlikely to show up, you might find someone just as beguiling will instead. I know I did.

I have been to Paris, Cairo, London and Jerusalem, all sprawling metropolises in which past and present coalesce; but believe me when I say that they’ve got nothing on Rome. History is everywhere you look, even when you’re not looking.

As previously suggested, you’re often not looking because your attention is occupied by a low-cut skirt or slim-cut suit.

The Coliseum is a metro stop. You can take a train to the goddamned Coliseum. You can sit at an innocuous little cafe and know that there’s a good chance it is older than the country you were born in. You can feel ancient blood beneath the streets. You can see aqueducts behind shopping centers.

Piazzas are squares, and numerous as they are charming. Piazza di Spagna, San Pietro, Venezia, et. al. They are at once ancient and modern, filled with olive skinned angels wearing the latest in fashion, making style seem like something inherent rather than acquired. Food is plentiful and exclusively good. Buy the simplest meal along with the cheapest house wine at any given restaurant and you will never be disappointed.

Now we cut to a bar, unsurprisingly.

I am in the annoying habit of embodying writerly stereotypes — although I typically don’t mean to — but some people fall for that. Hell, myself included. Most find it pretentious and affected; but every so often, some poor, nostalgia ridden soul will come along and see the moodiness as endearing, the drinking as gritty, the self-aggrandizement as attractive, even the self-pity as tolerable. I have come across a few such cases, some more memorable than others. She qualified as such.

Now enters an unattainable woman, unsurprisingly.

She said her name was Clara, said it with the confidence of a woman who did not expect to be denied, and so she was not. Her English was just good enough to accommodate the enormous gaps riddling my Italian. Her hair had the same color and richness that very expensive milk chocolate does. Her skin radiated like a sunset, as did her smile like a sunrise. Clara’s voice lilted and eyes sparkled in the way you’d imagine an angel’s do.

Talking to her, I found she possessed that rare quality ordinarily reserved for successful politicians. Simply by looking at you, listening to you, she could make you feel like the only person in the world at that moment. Clara made me feel like someone special during a time when so much as sense of self seemed all but impossible. Being the subject of her attention truly meant something, and being the subject of her affections meant more.

We walked around into the twilight hours, swapping stories of tattoos, one-nighters and heartbreak. She shared a two bedroom apartment in Campo di Fiori; it had a balcony for reading and smoking, along with a bathtub for same. I’d be damned if we weren’t going to make use of both. Her room was messier than mine, and her library more developed, too.

You always know a siren when you meet one.

She took photographs, gorgeous ones to which she gave nowhere near enough credit, much like herself. Even so, it was direly apparent she had a knack for it. Whether color or black-and-white, each made use of aesthetic minimalism to maximum effect. Some of them captured an exact moment in time exactly as it was, others succeeded in being timeless, much like herself. However belated, this one’s for you, my dearest Roman muse.


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