Saturday, June 28, 2008


Ineffable Rome. Rome is not a real city. It is one of Italo Calvino’s ‘invisible cities’—invented, created, dreamt. It stands as a cipher for everything that ever existed, and everything that ever existed still survives in Rome—in ruins, or memory, or myth, or shadows and reflections. Rome is the image of Piazza Navona spied in the rear-vision mirror of a Vespa. Rome is the dream of Popes and Potentates, inhabited clandestinely by operatic characters from every drama and comedy ever written. Rome is etched in blood and ink and Lapis lazuli and molten gold. Every despicable emotion has held sway in this city, every desire has found fulfilment. Every filament of beauty and greatness and glory has glowed here. Emperors transported hundreds of thousands of wild animals from every corner of the known world to die in its Games. They built marble-clad monuments to their ambitions and their passions, and then they evaporated, leaving only their breath on the air, and the stone reminders of their hopes. ‘All the dreams of my youth have come to life’, said Goethe on reaching Rome. Historical characters from all of the epochs still lurk in the folds of its hills, and stone valleys, emerging in a confusion of unheard sounds and unseeable images, and we feel the rustling of their capes as they swirl by. In Rome, history and geography collapse inward on themselves and we can be anything we ever dreamt of being. (Copyright J. Dickinson)

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