Rome Knows

I used to believe Paris was the benchmark of romantic European cities. Why else would there be so many pretender Parises “of the…” East, North and South to choose from? I now realise that Paris is referred to so frequently only because no city has sufficient stature to make even the weakest comparison with Rome worthwhile (although perhaps, with the singular exception that Paris could legitimately be the Rome “of the” slightly-further-West).

Different to the grandeur, glamour, grit or grip of other major cities, it is gravitas that defines Rome. Where Paris looks down with disappointment, Rome simply has no desire to look down at all. It sits proudly in an opulent marble throne painted in pastel shades with brushstrokes guided by God. It is lit by celestial yellow fluorescence and draped on all sides by the finest fabrics and foliage. Its people converse with the flamboyance of an infinite opera; the shortest note lyrically issued with existential significance. Flailing limbs conduct rhythm and coerce crescendos: an escalation from piano to fortissimo with the decisive swish of darting digits.

It is the city of mischievous goddesses and (un)saintly suitors, who fornicate in the streets to repent in the confessional (and more often than would be desirable to admit, vice versa). Eroticism versus evangelism, affluence versus austerity, Venus versus Jesus. The conflict leaves dirt between the polished cobbles. Between the flat-topped trees, the air is heavy with dust. Warm breezes offer relief, but fail to blow it clear. Instead it is carried it to the outskirts, where fraying lungs splutter and weary eyes squint.

And yet, upon the briefest glimpse of a fur-clad, chestnut-haired woman, flowing past a street seller of chestnuts, Rome reveals the beauty that exist in its midst. Acidic espresso is best served with cannoli dolce. Rome is Rome because it manifests the tensions between good and evil, gluttony and poverty, admission and denial that every human being endures and enjoys. It vividly embraces both extremes of our instincts. Somewhere in between, there is peace, poetry and occasional perfection.

We all live somewhere between the pulpit of the priest and purse of the prostitute. This, Rome knows.

Text & Photographs, 2017.

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