Monday, November 9, 2015

From Venice to Rome and Back

A panorama of the Forum (please click for larger view)
To travel from Venice to Rome right now is to watch the world through the train window seem to undergo a gradual metamorphosis from the immaterial to the corporeal.

On a summer trip through Italy the heat and blaze of the long days, the brevity of one's stopovers, the soreness of one's own feet, and the crush of one's fellow tourists, can all make the most diverse locales seem as much alike as different. But not now.

In these days of early November, with their mists and fog, Venice seems to become as much a figment of the clouds' imagination as of the sea's. While clear sunny Rome, on the other hand--a good 10 or 12 Fahrenheit degrees warmer--seems the creation of its hills: as prodigious and intense as the mythical wrestler Antaeus, whose strength emanated from his mother earth. Hercules was only able to get the better of him by lifting him into the air--the kind of thing a writer like Italo Calvino might manage on the page. But being neither Calvino nor Hercules, I'm content to leave the city where it sits.  

For the autumn haze persists beyond watery Venice, all the way to Ferrara and beyond, lingering in a series of flat landscapes where a few tall lone trees are scattered sparsely about like the meager figures of one of Giacometti's Piazza sculptures, or in brief lines like the vases in a Giorgio Morandi still-life, the palette just as restrained. Autumn announces itself here quietly: a light yellow wash upon the leaves and a flattening of perspective, and with all the muted existential melancholy of Giorgio Bassani's novel The Heron or some of Michelangelo Antonioni's films--to cite two famous Ferraresi.

As you approach Florence the mists vanish, the landscape cheers, the world assumes mass. But not
the mass of Rome, not the mass of the ruins in the Forum, on the Palatine Hill, or scattered all around the city. Not the immensity of St Peter's and the Vatican Museums whose very massiveness seems--in spite of the church's rejection of pagan Rome--like nothing so much as a continuation of the old Empire by other means (though for many many centuries just as inclined to use violence). Not something entirely other, the revolution promised by its founder, but just the flip-side of the same coin: the victim (its myriad martyrs encrypted around the city) become the victimizer.

In any case, how marvelous it was to be in an actual city again! With its energy and its traffic and its mobs--of residents, not just tourists! As Florence did not, as Turin did not, as Genova did not, as Catania did not--as Palermo did somewhat--Rome reminded Jen and I of what we liked about New York City, the certain feel of it, for all the differences. Just as I began to wonder about what rents were like I happened upon her looking at an online real estate site.

But we returned to Venice, making the journey yesterday afternoon back into the mists of our ordinary life. As we approached the damp air overwhelmed the heat of the train car we rode in, which had tended toward the stifling for much of the trip. I shivered and put on a sweater, thinking of the warmth of Rome. And even the sight of fishing nets staked in the lagoon to either side of the railway bridge didn't entirely clear the appealing sense of that city from my bloodstream. But then, as we pulled into Santa Lucia station, Sandro started quite literally to bounce on his seat and whoop, then to exclaim, "We're home! We're home! We're home!" and so we were. So we are.

After living in Venice for five years you find yourself irresistibly drawn to images of boats, even from among the countless scenes depicted on the gargantuan columns of the emperors (this particular one celebrating Trajan)...  
...and of all the Venuses in a place like the Borghese Gallery this one, painted by Titian and reminiscent of similar figures of his still remaining in Venice, seems almost like coming across the image of an old neighbor in a strange city (detail from Titian's Venus Blindfolding Cupid)


  1. I think you may have planted the seed which may sprout into a return visit to Rome. I've never been there in the winter.

    1. I don't know what the "dead of winter" is like, there, Yvonne, but the start of November was certainly quite nice!